The high cost of housing and rent increases contributed to close to a 21 percent rise in the number of families seeking refuge in homeless shelters in the state during the last year, according to a report issued Wednesday.
According to the second annual statewide "point-in-time" homeless count taken on Jan. 30, the number of families who became homeless and ended up in shelters rose to 474 from 392 in 2007, and the number of children in those families rose to 861 from 728.
"Shelters are telling us they are seeing more and more families who are working and living in shelters because they just can't afford the housing," said Kate Kelly, manager of the Partnership for Strong Communities' Reaching Home Campaign, one of three organizations that conducted the count.
The findings indicate that the economic downturn and the state's lack of affordable housing is driving many families to shelters. About one third of adults in homeless families reported to volunteers who conducted the count that they were currently working at the time of the count, and 27 percent said they were homeless due to rent problems.
Housing and homeless advocates on Wednesday called for the expansion of supportive housing and affordable housing in the state, as well as eviction prevention and practices to help families remain housed during a financial crisis.
"We haven't been creating rental housing in the state, and now we have a situation where people are getting evicted. Even though they remain employed, they are just are not able to make it work," said David Fink, policy and communications director with the Partnership for Strong Communities.
A household must earn $21.11 an hour, or about $44,000 a year, to afford the fair-market average price for a two-bedroom apartment in the Hartford area, which rents for $985 month, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition's Out of Reach report.
On Jan. 30, hundreds of volunteers fanned out to cities and towns across the state to count the number of homeless in shelters, transitional housing units, abandoned buildings and under bridges. The count was organized by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, the Corporation for Supportive Housing and the Reaching Home Campaign.
The number of single adults in shelters rose to 2,257 from 2,138 in 2007, according to the count.
While the number of homeless families and singles seeking refuge in shelters increased, the study found fewer families and singles living in cars, parks or abandoned buildings.
The number of singles on the streets fell to 590 from 707 in 2007 and the number of families dropped to eight from 38.
Carol Walter, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, said the increase in homeless families is a cause for concern, but the issue can be solved.
"We need to create permanent supportive housing, and we need to implement and expand prevention of homelessness, a one-time cash assistance, and we need more affordable housing," Walter said.
There are more than 3,800 supportive housing units in the state. The Reaching Home Campaign's goal is establish 10,000 units.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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