In the world of homelessness assistance, housing is the number one priority. As we like to say at the Alliance, housed people aren’t homeless.
But what happens after people exit homelessness to housing? In an ideal world, homelessness should be rare, brief, and non-recurring. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. People who have been housed through homeless programs sometimes fall back into homelessness. Fortunately, researchers are working to determine why some households remain stably housed and others don’t.
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that homelessness has been steadily declining in America since 2007. The bad news is that the number of people most likely to become homelessness has been steadily rising—and it doesn’t show signs of stopping any time soon.
There are a lot of reasons for the increase in the number of vulnerable people. Some of these include low minimum wages and a lack of affordable housing in major cities and for low-income renters. Unfortunately, a new report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies and Enterprise Community partners shows that this trend is unlikely to reverse in the next decade.
Suddenly it’s everywhere: Congressional hearings, daily news stories, a pledge from hundreds of mayors. Community leaders and federal officials are talking about ending homelessness for veterans – not as some vague aspiration for the distant future, but by the end of this year, just a few months from now!
What’s going on?
If you ask provider of homeless services in your community what a “typical” homeless person in shelter looks like, they may give you an entirely different answer than a provider in my community would give me. Homelessness doesn’t look the same across the nation, across a state, or even across a community.
It’s true that homeless person is unique, which makes it difficult to understand what homelessness looks like in America, but here’s the catch: unless we understand the general demographic trends in homelessness, we cannot provide the most effective services to end their homelessness.
So how do we these trends of homelessness on a national scale? To address this challenging question, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) collects data from around the country throughout the year and synthesizes this information into two yearly reports called the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, Parts 1 and 2.
In the next two weeks, volunteers across the country will set out to conduct a count of all homeless persons in their communities. Though it may be too late sign up to volunteer in your community’s 2015 Point-in-Time Count (here in D.C., volunteer registration is already closed), you can still help us out at the Alliance.
Every year the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities to conduct sheltered counts of people living in emergency shelter or transitional housing. Every other year, HUD requires communities to conduct unsheltered counts of people living in a place unfit for human habitation (such as in an abandoned building or in a park). This year is one of the years that both counts are required, so every community will be conducting both a sheltered and an unsheltered count.
Here at the Alliance, we track this data as it is released. Different communities release their count data at different times, and we want to know which communities are reporting an increase in homelessness and which ones are reporting a decrease. Of course, there are a lot of communities across the nation, so we can’t do this without your help.