In the Third Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress released this week, HUD estimates that 671,888 individuals were either living in emergency or transitional shelters or were on the street on a given night in January 2007. Of this total number, 18% are defined as chronically homeless individuals, those with a disabling condition living alone who have been homeless for at least one year or four times in the last three years.
The one-night estimate of the homeless population is based on homeless surveys conducted by all of the Continuums of Care in the country, which also report the number of shelter beds available in their communities. The study also draws information on the characteristics of the sheltered population from the Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) of nearly 100 shelters. Based on the HMIS data from these nationally representative service providers, HUD estimates that nearly 1.6 million individuals spent time in an emergency or transitional shelter between October 2006 and September 2007.
Based on data from Continuums of Care that conducted point-in-time surveys in both 2006 and 2007, the total number of homeless individuals decreased by 6%, and the number of chronically homeless individuals dropped by 11% over this period. The authors are careful to note, however, that these apparent decreases could be the result of the technical assistance that HUD continues to provide to communities on improving their enumeration methodologies, thereby reflecting greater accuracy rather than a declining homeless population. Two-thirds of the decline is attributable to lower estimates of persons in families, which is a difficult population to count and which leads the authors to suggest that this year’s lower estimates are likely due to methodological improvements. Also, HUD reports that 63% of the states had lower homeless estimates in 2007, but many declines can be traced to dramatically lower estimates from one Continuum of Care, and can reflect changes in methodology rather than real declines in homelessness.
The report also finds that the roughly 611,000 year-round shelter beds are divided nearly evenly between emergency shelters, transitional shelters, and permanent supportive housing. The total number of shelters and beds increased by approximately 5% from 2006 to 2007. Permanent supportive housing grew more quickly than either emergency or transitional shelters, accounting for 63% of the new facilities and 42% of the new beds.
The full report, which contains a significant amount of information on the characteristics of homeless families and individuals as well as appendices providing homeless counts for each state and for individual Continuums of Care, is available at www.hudhre.info/documents/3rdHomelessAssessmentReport.pdf.