Number of homeless people drops in annual count, particularly among families, veterans


Susan St. Amour, 54, a homeless woman, panhandles during the evening commute in Portland, Maine, on Nov. 14, 2013. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)
November 21, 2013

The number of people who were counted as homeless on a single night this year declined almost 4 percent from the year before, with the biggest drops among families, veterans and those who have been homeless the longest, according to figures released Thursday.

Across the United States, 610,000 people were homeless on the night in late January when the annual count was conducted. Most were living in emergency shelters or some form of temporary housing designed to be transitional, but one-third were living in unsheltered locations, such as on the streets or in fields.

The 2013 head count is almost 24,000 fewer people than in the previous year and represents a 9 percent decline since 2007.

The Obama administration has vowed to end veteran and long-term, chronic homelessness by the end of 2015, and among children and families by 2020. Since 2010, the number of homeless has dropped by 40,000 people, a 6 percent decline.

Yet the figures showing progress came as the government is about to notify communities of a 5 percent cut in federal funding for programs that have helped curb homelessness.

“It will have devastating effects, and it’s perverse,” Shaun Donovan, secretary of housing and urban development, said of the impending budget cuts, which he blamed on sequestration.

“We are at risk of slowing the progress of veterans and halting the progress among families and children, if the cuts continue,” he added. “We cannot balance our budget on the backs of the most vulnerable in society. Some say we can’t afford to pay for these programs. The truth is, we can’t afford not to.”

Despite progress, the latest figures underscore the long road ahead.

Almost 58,000 veterans were homeless, 5,000 fewer than the year before. The number of homeless families dropped 7 percent, to 222,000 people. And the number of chronically homeless, most of them individuals, fell by a similar ratio.

Nearly a quarter of the homeless are children younger than 18. An additional 10 percent are adults younger than 25.

More than half the nation’s homeless people live in just five populous states: California, New York, Florida, Texas and Massachusetts.

In the Washington region, Maryland has the largest homeless population, at 8,200 people, a 24 percent decrease from 2010. Virginia has 7,600 homeless people, a 16 percent drop in that same time. And the District has almost 6,900 homeless people, a 5 percent increase.

Although homelessness has been rising in rural and suburban communities, it is largely a big city problem, Donovan said.

Despite the declines nationwide, some places experienced significant increases year over year. The most notable were a 27 percent jump in Los Angeles and a 13 percent increase in New York. Those two cities accounted for nearly one in five people experiencing homelessness in the entire country.

In cities where the ranks of the homeless are growing, Donovan said, the trend is largely being driven by increases in the number of homeless families and in individuals who cycle through bouts of homelessness for short periods of time.

Carol Morello writes about demographics and the census, as well as a lot of other stuff that comes down the pike. She has worked at the Washington Post since 2000.
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