In a development that shook the earth under only a few pairs of feet this Tuesday, the department of Housing and Urban Development released
its Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR). According to the report, Florida has 8.9 percent of the nation’s homeless population, despite having only 6.1 of the nation’s total population.
The 207-page report
has a morass of data on the homeless problem in America, and we don’t expect you to read it all, so we’ve reproduced a few tidbits summarizing some notable changes from 2009.
A large shift in the geography of sheltered homelessness from principal cities to suburban and rural areas. During this period the annual estimate of people using emergency shelter or transitional housing in principal cities decreased from 1.2 million to 1.0 million, while the number of people using shelter or transitional housing in suburban and rural areas increased from 367,000 to 576,000.
As the sheltered homeless population rose in non-urban areas, there was a corresponding increase in the number of homeless people served as part of a family and the number of homeless people who were White and not Hispanic.
Compared to the U.S. total and poverty populations, users of homeless programs remain disproportionately likely to be single men, middle-aged, and African-American. However, over the 4 years, these distinctive characteristics of homeless people have become less pronounced.
The feds collect all this data through a system called Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS), a database which, as we reported an in-depth article
in January, contains the personal information of nearly 90,000 individuals who have at one point utilized homeless services in Orange, Osceola, or Seminole counties. The federally-mandated system is controversial because of privacy concerns—the homeless are a “target-rich environment” for identity thieves, contends a source in our story—but has gradually grown so that nearly every populated area in the nation is now submitting data on its homeless to the federal government.
UPDATE: Literally minutes after posting this blog to our website, we received the following release from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty:
HUD Report: Family Homelessness Up 20 Percent Since 2007
Still, Congress considers eliminating homeless services program
WASHINGTON, D.C. - While a report released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this week indicated a 20 percent increase in family homelessness, the Administration and members of Congress are considering eliminating a federal program that provides services to more than 2 million homeless people annually.
HUD's 2010 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report
to Congress noted several important trends. Between January 2009 and January 2010, thanks to $1.5 billion in time-limited stimulus funding for homelessness prevention and re-housing, homelessness only increased marginally. But since the recession began in 2007, family homelessness increased 20 percent (Jan. 2007- Jan. 2010). During that same time span, use of emergency shelter in rural and suburban areas increased by 57 percent. The homeless population in these communities is more likely to be composed of families than in urban communities.
Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, said, "This trend is disturbing, particularly because it is almost certainly an undercount. For example, these numbers do not reflect families living in hotels, or doubled up with family or friends out of economic necessity-even though federal law now requires many of them to be included. Homelessness is rising, and the federal government should be increasing assistance, not trying to cut it back."
Despite this rising need, the Administration has recommended and members of Congress are currently considering eliminating a key homeless services program. Their proposals threaten to eradicate Title V of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act
, a law which allows homeless service providers to receive federal property that is no longer being used by the government, at no cost, to provide housing and other services to people who are homeless. These properties are used to provide homeless persons with housing and/or supportive services across the country. If the law were eliminated, providers would have fewer means to obtain property for these services.
Efforts to abolish Title V are in direct opposition to the U.S. government's stated commitment to ending homelessness. In June, 2010, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness released Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.
The plan's central tenet is that "no one should experience homelessness-no one should be without a safe, stable place to call home." Congress has made a similar pledge: the HEARTH Act of 2009 established "a Federal goal of ensuring that individuals and families who become homeless return to permanent housing within 30 days."
Foscarinis said, "It is unconscionable for our government to try to cut effective programs that are helping homeless people-while more families lose their homes. Using vacant government property to house people who are homeless is cost effective, makes sense, and meets urgent needs. This program should be expanded, not cut."