HUD Homeless Data Likely Understates Problem
Press Type: Press Release Associated Program: Housing
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today released its Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. The report provides an overview of the demographics of the homeless population served by HUD's homeless assistance programs, and includes the result of a point-in-time count of homelessness conducted in January 2008 in communities that receive homeless assistance funds from HUD.
- Overall homelessness (as defined by HUD) declined slightly (by 1%) from January 2007 to January 2008: 664,414 persons were homeless on a single night in January 2008, approximately 7500 persons fewer than 2007. This decline is solely due to a decline in homelessness among single individuals.
- The number of homeless families grew by approximately 9% in the sheltered population (i.e. by approximately 43,000 persons); HUD does not estimate the numbers of unsheltered homeless families who are living doubled up.
- Approximately 1.6 million persons were part of the sheltered homeless population from Oct. 1, 2007 - Sept. 30, 2008.
- 8 states had more unsheltered homeless persons than sheltered: California (70% unsheltered), Colorado (53%), Florida (59%), Georgia (54%), Hawaii (55%), Michigan (58%), Nevada (61%), and Oregon (52%).
NLCHP's analysis of the findings:
- The decrease in homelessness found in HUD's report was due solely to decreases in homelessness among individuals. HUD's report found an increase in family homelessness, both as a percentage of the overall homeless population as well as in real numbers.
- HUD's data on family homelessness actually understates the extent of the problem because HUD uses a narrow definition of homelessness and does not consider individuals or families homeless if they are living doubled up with other families or in certain other housing situations. According to HUD's data, approximately 29% of families had been staying with family or friends just prior to entering the homeless assistance system.
- The data was collected in January 2008 - too early to show the full impact of the recession on homelessness. Many communities have reported increases in demand for shelter and services over the past year. For example, according to a survey by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, one in five school districts reported serving more children in the Fall of 2008 than in the entire 2007-2008 school year.
Advocates said that while the decline in the number ofsingle individuals was heartening, the rising number of families was of concern. "HUD uses a more restrictive definition of homelessness than many other federal agencies," said Laurel Weir, Policy Director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP). "If HUD used the same definition of family homelessness as the U.S. Department of Education, the number of homeless families would have been even higher."
"No one should be under the illusion that homelessness in America is decreasing," said NLCHP's Executive Director, Maria Foscarinis. "In fact, the foreclosure crisis and economic recession are driving hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes, and shelters in communities across the country are overflowing."