The national homeless population decreased by 1%, or approximately 7,000 people, between 2009 and 2011, according to The State of Homelessness in America 2012, a report issued by the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) and its Homelessness Research Institute. This decrease even in the face of the ongoing recession is attributed by the report’s authors to federal investment in solutions.
This report is the second in a series examining homelessness in the wake of the recession and chronicling changes in related economic factors. NAEH found that although the national homeless population remains essentially unchanged, closer analysis reveals the homeless population increased in 24 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia and in 11 of those states it increased by 20% or more. Economic indicators point to an increase in at-risk individuals in precarious housing situations, suggesting that government intervention may be the only thing standing between low income households and homelessness.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funded a temporary federal initiative designed to prevent a recession-related spike in homelessness called the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing (HPRP) program. HPRP funds have been accessed by approximately 1 million at-risk and homeless people since its January 2010 start date. HPRP resources have run out in many communities and the program is set to end entirely in the fall of 2012.
According to the 2011 point-in-time homelessness counts, all but one homeless subpopulation decreased since the count in 2009. Veterans saw the largest decrease with an 11% drop, a trend attributed to expanded supportive housing programs. The only subpopulation to grow was the unsheltered homeless, which increased by 2% from 2009 to 2011. This means that 4 in 10 homeless individuals are currently unsheltered. Especially vulnerable to becoming homeless are those discharged from prison and youth aging out of foster care, the report found.
NAEH used four economic indicators to assess the recession’s impact on the homeless and those at risk of homelessness. Their findings show that conditions worsened among three of the four factors from 2009 to 2010: housing cost, unemployment, and foreclosure. The fourth factor, the average real income of the working poor, increased nationally, but only marginally—by less than 1% ($112)—and 17 states reported decreases.
First, the 2009 and 2010 American Community Survey (ACS) data were used to determine the percentage of poor households facing a severe housing cost burden, those paying more than 50% of their monthly income toward rent and living below the federal poverty line. This is a key indicator for risk of homelessness. The data showed a 6% increase from 5.9 million in 2009 to 6.2 million in 2010 nationwide and increases in 38 states. For the second indicator, using Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment data, NAEH found a 4% increase in those unemployed nationally between 2009 and 2010 and increases in 32 states. As a third measure of economic distress, RealtyTrac data were analyzed to capture the rising rate of foreclosures nationwide; they showed a 2% increase from 2009 to 2010. Although this is a significant slowing of the national foreclosure rate, 38 states reported increases in foreclosures and the median change was a 13% increase.
According to NAEH’s analysis, housing conditions can be an indicator of greater risk of homelessness. “Doubling up” by living with friends or family for economic reasons is the most common precursor among adults in family households. The analysis found that the odds of experiencing homelessness for a person living doubled up are estimated to be 1 in 12 as compared to 1 in 194 for the general U.S. population. The percentage of individuals “doubling up” increased by 13% from 2009 to 2010 and has increased by 50% since 2005.
NAEH cautions that as HPRP is ending, need remains high, the economy is not projected to improve soon, and homelessness is a lagging indicator, the rate of homelessness may yet increase. Furthermore, federal deficit reduction efforts will increasingly threaten assistance programs that are essential to preventing a surge in homelessness.
The report includes a summary of population changes for the homeless, severely housing cost burdened and doubled up households for each state as well as for the 100 largest metro areas.
To read State of Homelessness in America 2012, go to http://www.endhomelessness.org/content/article/detail/4361.