More families became homeless in recession

Nurse Jacquelyn White checks in on John Van Tuyz at the Columbus, Ohio, campsite that is his home.
Nurse Jacquelyn White checks in on John Van Tuyz at the Columbus, Ohio, campsite that is his home. (Eric Albrecht)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 13, 2011

During the throes of the recession, the number of homeless people in the United States increased, and the number of homeless families increased at an even greater rate, according to a report released Wednesday.

The findings by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, although not surprising, confirm the harsh toll that the recession - which began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009 - took on families.

Historically, people struggling with mental illness, substance abuse or other chronic problems have been the focus of government homelessness efforts, and until recently the number of such homeless people had been declining.

But the recession, which has led to rising unemployment and declining social services, has slowed progress among the chronically homeless and increased numbers of the newly homeless, among them many families, according to the alliance's report.

State by state the picture was mixed, with 19 states reporting decreases in homelessness.

"The good news is, the numbers could have been a lot worse," Nan Roman, the alliance's executive director, said Wednesday at a news conference at the National Press Club.

Drawing on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services, the study looked at changes in homelessness nationwide from 2008 to 2009.

The number of homeless people increased 3 percent, or by about 20,000 people, and the number of homeless families increased 4 percent, according to the alliance's report, "State of Homelessness in America."

The District and 31 states recorded increases in the total number of homeless people.

To explain the rise, the report discusses a number of factors, including housing costs, foreclosure rates, the number of people aging out of foster care and the number of inmates leaving prison.

The differences among states underscore the local nature of homelessness and the role that local governments play in fighting the problem.

With state and county governments facing huge budget deficits, advocates fear that the numbers in next year's report - which will look at 2009 to last year - will be even worse. "We're obviously concerned about the current situation," Roman said.

In the most recent survey by Washington area jurisdictions, the number of homeless people was down slightly from 2009 to 2010, although the District, which has more than half of the region's homeless, and Arlington and Loudoun counties recorded moderate increases.

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