U.S. Homelessness Declined in 2012, in Part Due to Federal Programs Now at Risk

The National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) released its third annual report on homelessness rates and related indicators earlier this week. The State of Homelessness in America 2013 finds that the U.S. homeless population decreased slightly (0.4%) between 2011 and 2012, with the largest reductions among the chronically homeless (6.8%) and veterans (7.2%). However, many indicators associated with the risk of homelessness, including high fair market rents and poverty rates, rose in the previous year. NAEH suggests that overall homelessness levels decreased in part because of targeted federal assistance programs, some of which are at risk of losing funding. According to 2012 point-in-time estimates, 633,782 people experienced homelessness on a single night in January, meaning that 20 out of every 10,000 people are homeless. Of those, 15.8% were chronically homeless individuals, and 37.8% were people in families. Though there was no change in the number of families experiencing homelessness, the average homeless family size increased, translating into a 1.4% increase in the number of people in families experiencing homelessness, the only subpopulation increase between 2011 and 2012. Further, although the nation saw an overall decrease in the homeless population, 29 states reported increases, ranging from 0.3% in Washington to 74.7% in Wyoming. As homelessness is dependent on previous circumstances, the authors also examined economic and housing factors from 2010-2011 and five year trends of factors that are often associated with a higher risk of homelessness. The report finds a shrinking supply of affordable housing nationally alongside economic indicators that would suggest greater risk of homelessness, such as a decrease of median household income and per capita social spending on public assistance, and a rise in poverty despite the decreasing unemployment rate from 2010 to 2011. The number of renters nationwide spending more than half of their income on housing costs increased by 5.5%. Increases varied greatly among states that experienced increases, from 0.2% in Nebraska to 58.4% in Maine. The fair market rent also increased by 1.5% between 2010 and 2011. Living doubled-up with friends or family is the previous living situation most often cited by individuals and families entering homelessness. From 2010 to 2011, 38 states reported an increase in doubled-up households, with 10 states experiencing at least a 25% percent increase. Poor adults accessing safety net benefits increased by 11.5% nationally and 43 states reported the same or a higher number. The report states that, while accessing these benefits is not a sign of homelessness, the indicator reveals how many households are in need of additional resources for essential needs. Though trends vary widely by state, the report emphasizes how targeted federal, state and local investment led to decreases in chronic and veteran homelessness. NAEH continues to advocate for increased opportunities for community-based homelessness prevention. The authors affirm that rapid re-housing has made a difference by decreasing the amount of time households spend homeless, and increasing the capacity of communities to serve the homeless.Click here to access the report.