Homelessness remains a pervasive and tragic problem, but one that can be solved through investing in programs that work, according to the 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR). The report, released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in June 2010, provides a summary of the state and extent of homelessness in the country, as well as efforts to support the first federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, Opening Doors. It covers topics spanning from homelessness prevention to residential services to permanent supportive housing.
Where the numbers come from
The AHAR relies on information from several different sources. One of these is the number of people - either in or out of shelters – who were homeless on a single night in January (called the Point in Time count). Continuums of Care also provide one-year estimates of homelessness based on housing inventories, the number of homeless assistance programs and beds in their communities, and Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) data. This year, data from the new Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) program was also factored in.
National trends in homelessness: 2007 - 2010
This year’s report is the first to compile data from the entire official period of the recession (2007 – 2010), and to look more closely at longer trends in homelessness in the U.S.
Although the majority of people experiencing homelessness are still found in cities, one of the most striking trends during this period was the increase in rural and suburban homelessness. This may be a function of many factors, including increased poverty and greater impact of the recession in non-urban areas, as well as fewer social services and rental units available in these areas.
There is also evidence to suggest that the recession has made certain groups more vulnerable to homelessness than others. Although the annual number of shelter users has stayed roughly the same, families in particular now make up a larger proportion of the sheltered homeless population than ever before. Most of these consist of a single mother with young children. According to the report, this is partly due to the greater impact of the recession on families than on individuals.
Homelessness over the last year
Who experienced homelessness most often in the U.S. last year?
According to the AHAR, the people most at risk of becoming homeless are African-Americans, men between the ages of 31 and 50, and people with disabilities.
But it also found differences between people who are homeless as individuals versus as part of a family experiencing homelessness. Overall, individuals experiencing homelessness tend to be white males over the age of 30 who have a disability of some kind. On the other hand, adults who are homeless as part of a family are more likely to be younger African-American women without a reported disability.
How many people were homeless this year compared to last year?
The AHAR measures this in two ways. The Point in Time count takes a sort of snapshot inventory of people experiencing homelessness. This year’s report found that nearly 650,000 people were homeless on a single night in January, which was a 1.1% increase from January 2009. Most (80%) of these people were in shelters, and nearly two-thirds were experiencing homelessness as individuals, and not as part of a family household.
Another way to measure homelessness is to find out how many people spent at least one night either in an emergency shelter or in transitional housing over the entire year. The 2010 AHAR reports this number to be over 1.59 million people, a 2.2% increase from last year. The majority (79%) used only emergency housing, as opposed to transitional housing or a combination of both.
The Latest in Permanent Supportive Housing
Even though people living in permanent supportive housing (PSH) are not actually homeless by definition, the services they receive are a vital part of the larger effort to end homelessness. PSH beds are now the biggest part of the country’s homeless housing inventory. Nearly 300,000 people used this service at least once between October 2009 and September 2010. Roughly 18% of PSH tenants exited the program this year, with most moving into rental housing. Compared to people living in homeless shelters, PSH tenants were more likely to be female, part of a family, living in an urban area, and African-American. They were also twice as likely as adults living in shelters to have a disability, which reflects the different eligibility criteria for PSH programs receiving McKinney-Vento funding.
Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program: The First Year
The Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) offers homeless prevention services for very low-income households. It also provides rapid re-housing assistance for people who are already experiencing homelessness. In its first year, the HPRP assisted 700,000 people, mostly younger women living in their own housing (that’s compared to sheltered homeless, who are typically older men without housing).
Over three-quarters received homelessness prevention services, as opposed to rapid re-housing services. Most received assistance for 2 months or less. And an overwhelming majority (94%) of participants who exited the program to a known destination went into permanent housing, an outcome HUD describes as impressive given the challenges that the program faced in its first year.
Next year’s AHAR will continue to monitor these trends, with special attention to the rise in suburban and rural homelessness and family homelessness. Information from the second year of HPRP and the use of PSH programs will also be included. The 2011 AHAR will be a critical benchmark, as it will be the last year of reporting before the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act takes effect.
As the nationwide effort towards the goals of Opening Doors continues, HUD stresses the importance of putting the information from the AHAR to use in supporting programs and practices that work to prevent and end homelessness across the country.
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