HUD Report: Recession Spurs Rise in Homeless Families

HUD has released the 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR), which provides the latest counts and characteristics of homelessness in the United States and allows for the comparison of trends in homelessness from 2007 through 2009. 

The major finding of the report is the continued rise in family homelessness from 2007 to 2009, an increase the report attributes to the effects of the ongoing recession. According to the estimates on shelter use, there were almost 62,000 more family members who were in a shelter at some point in 2009 than there were in 2007, for an increase of 30% in the number of sheltered families since 2007. 

One reported trend in family homelessness is that the adults in families are somewhat more likely to be men in 2009 than they were in 2007. It is likely that more two-parent households and male-headed families have become homeless due to the recession. Furthermore, the report notes that the median number of nights a family stays in an emergency shelter increased from 30 in 2008 to 36 in 2009, while the median number of nights in emergency shelter decreased from 18 in 2008 to 17 in 2009 for individuals. Finally, there is a continued increase in the percentage of adults in families who report having lived with family or friends before becoming homeless, but no further increases in the percentage who said they came from an owned or rented house. According to the report, this implies that the effect of the continuing foreclosure crisis on family homelessness is indirect, as families going through foreclosure may stay with friends and family before entering the shelter system. 

While family homelessness continues to increase, this report does show that there are 80,000 fewer sheltered homeless individuals in 2009 than there were in 2007 (a 7% decrease), a situation which the report says may reflect community success in getting people out of shelters and into permanent housing. In fact, the report shows that the number of beds in permanent supportive housing programs has increased from about 177,000 to 219,000. 

Data also shows that males and minorities continue to be overrepresented in the sheltered populations. Sixty-four percent of shelter residents were male, while 62% were racial or ethnic minorities. Of the minorities, African-Americans were the most likely to be homeless, representing 39% of the sheltered homeless population, nearly 3 times their share of the U.S. population. 

The AHAR presents two types of estimates; the source of the data cited so far in this article is the local Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS), which provides a count of all people who are sheltered homeless at any time during the year. The other estimate used in this report comes from point-in-time (PIT) counts, which are one-night counts of all people who are either unsheltered or sheltered homeless. The PIT estimates show that the number of all homeless people between January 2008 and January 2009 decreased by 3.2%. However, it is very important to note that these declines are primarily driven by a single city, Los Angeles, which has a very large homeless population. Removing Los Angeles and two other cities with significant methodological issues in their PIT counts (Detroit and New Orleans) results in the number of sheltered and unsheltered persons actually increasing by 2.1%, from 576,125 in 2007 to 587,954 in 2009. The report notes that any PIT counts should be interpreted carefully. 

The report, The 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, is available at: 5thHomelessAssessmentReport.pdf.