Fewer People Homeless - But More at Risk

The Great Recession is over, the economy is recovering, and yet the number of people who are at risk of homelessness remains significantly higher than it was before that recession began.
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The Great Recession is over, the economy is recovering, and yet the number of people who are at risk of homelessness remains significantly higher than it was before that recession began.

Yesterday the National Alliance to End Homelessness released The State of Homelessness in America 2016. Read the full report: www.endhomelessness.org/soh2016.

This analysis of the most recent federal data on housing and homelessness shows that in 2014, 7 million poor people were doubled-up -living with family and friends. Living doubled-up is the most common last address of people who become homeless. This is 52 percent more people than were living doubled- in 2007 - the year prior to the recession. Why? Most likely because housing is becoming less and less affordable for low income people. In 2014, 6.6 million poor renter households spent more than half of their income for housing; an increase of 28 percent over 2007.

This would seem to be a recipe for increasing homelessness, and although that is the case in some areas, nationally the number of homeless people is going down. On a single night in January 2015, 13 percent fewer people were homeless than was the case in 2007. This decrease is likely due to the use of much more effective approaches to homelessness.

Federal resources and local action have begun to focus much more on returning people quickly to housing, and linking them to services that can help stabilize them there. Communities do need shelter, but as a crisis intervention rather than a place to live. High need people are moved to permanent supportive housing (subsidized housing with services attached), and people who are homeless for largely economic reasons get rapid re-housing (deposits and short term subsidies plus services) to get back to housing quickly. Since 2007, permanent supportive housing capacity has grown 69 percent and since 2013, rapid re-housing capacity has grown 204 percent.

Lack of affordable housing hinders progress

While this shift is promising, it is a crisis response. And as in so many things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Letting over a million people become homeless every year -- with all the damage that does to individuals, the economy and society - is not a good idea. While I am glad that the nation is getting better at responding to the homelessness crisis, better that we solve it instead. And the way to do that is to fill the nation's 7 million unit gap in housing that is affordable and available to low income people.

Congress should act

The homeless assistance system is doing what it can to serve those with the most desperate housing needs. But our report also shows that 31 percent of people who are homelessness are unsheltered - lacking access even to a shelter bed. To do better in addressing the homelessness crisis, more resources are needed.

Congress should support the effective work of homeless assistance programs in the following ways.
  • Increase funding for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants by $414 million to finish the job of ending chronic homelessness and provide 8,000 units of rapid re-housing for homeless families.
  • Support the Administration's FY 2017 proposal to end family homelessness with the creation an $11 billion mandatory program to fund housing vouchers and rapid re-housing assistance for 550,000 families over the next ten years.
Congress should also prioritize investment in affordable housing and other efforts to improve economic conditions for low-income populations.
  • Appropriate $20.854 billion for Section 8 Tenant-Based Rental Assistance, which includes support for 10,000 new Housing Choice Vouchers for homeless families.
  • Securing future funding for the National Housing Trust Fund.
  • State of Homelessness shows that there is good news in the work of some states to end homelessness. But to make homelessness a rare rather than an everyday occurrence, we will have to turn the tide on affordable housing.
Find out what is happening in your state by exploring
The State of Homelessness in America 2016