Monday, June 20, 2011

Homelessness during the recession

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) released their Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR) on June 14th. Based on 2010 data, the report showed that homelessness did not increase at the height of the recession, despite the economy.

That seems to fly in the face of logic. So why didn’t it increase?

The National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) believes that stimulus funding to prevent or rapidly end homelessness helped. “The $1.5 billion in stimulus funds, called the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) offered communities significant new resources to curb homelessness resulting from the recession. The AHAR reports that HPRP funds prevented and ended homelessness for an estimated 690,000 people (my emphasis) in the reporting year, and the program also decreased the length of time people in some areas experienced homelessness.”

As one of the 13 agencies investing HPRP funds to prevent newly at risk families from falling into homelessness in Kansas City, MO, we helped only a small percentage of the 690,000 people helped nationwide. While we kept 125 people from becoming homeless, at an average of 100 families (300-400 people), our waiting list for our transitional housing was the highest it had been in years.

Our experience really isn’t inconsistent with the AHAR report, when you dig down into the subpopulations among the homeless. The number of homeless people in families increased by 6% from 2009 to 2010; 20% from 2007 to 2010.

The NAEH identified the real dilemma in the next couple of years. “Unfortunately, HPRP expires in 2012 and there will not be assistance for those hundreds of thousands of households that are facing homelessness.” … “The federal government is considering deep cuts to domestic discretionary spending which will affect poverty programs and social services across the board. State and local governments have already begun to make deep cuts. An efficient homelessness system supplied with significant emergency resources staved off a new wave of homelessness in 2009 and 2010. But with as high unemployment continues, housing prices rise, and safety net programs are shredded, this trend is likely to shift direction; there will be more homeless people and fewer resources to help them. In the face of growing need and deep budget cuts, an important principle must be to protect the most vulnerable. Certainly, homeless people meet that criterion. The homeless assistance system, in which federal resources leverage significant state, local and private dollars, is the ultimate safety net for the most vulnerable people; there is nothing beneath it. The programs work, they are solution oriented, cost effective and humane. A decision to support these programs and the vulnerable populations they serve would not only be an ethical decision, but a smart one.”