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Connecticut Homeless Still Growing; Shelters Struggle To House Everyone

More Singles, Families Asking For Beds In Recession

Susan Campbell

November 02, 2010

On January 27, 2010, workers counted 3,818 people sleeping in Connecticut's shelters. The previous year's number - 4,154 - included people in shelters, and roughly 500 people sleeping outside of shelters, as well.

The state's homeless population has risen, but it hasn't jumped. That's good news, but before we pop the bubbly, consider this:

For the past few years, the state's homeless shelters have been full to the bursting. Shelter workers perform heroically to find beds for people who want and need them, but sometimes? They have to say no. That's been happening more lately during a recession that's been delivering people sometimes alone, and sometimes with families - to shelter doorsteps.

So in studying the Point-in-Time homeless survey released last week, remember that the census only counted people in shelters which have a finite amount of spaces to count.

"We shouldn't be congratulating ourselves just yet," said Carol Walter, executive director of the CT Coalition to End Homelessness. "The numbers remain very high, and we've not made a dent in chronic homelessness. We've held off dramatic increases by creating supportive housing, but clearly we have work to do."

Few populations defy study as much as the homeless. By virtue of their lack of a permanent address, these are not people who stay put, but every year homeless advocates try to survey at least the people who have found beds in shelters.

Nearly half said they'd never been homeless before.

"That doesn't blow me away, but it does point to the idea that there's a new push of poor people who are falling off the edge into homelessness," said Walter. "What we have is a helium balloon bouncing off the ceiling. The trends tell us the shelters are unreasonably full and continue to be unreasonably full. In a shelter, it's not possible for there to be a huge increase."

In this year's survey, 62 percent said that rent problems or evictions moved them from their last place of residence. "Rent problems" can mean a lot of things, including incidences of domestic violence in which a partner controls the finances to the detriment of the family.

Half of the homeless were sheltered in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven.

Of the single people in the survey those without children:

15 percent were veterans.

51 percent were white.

27 percent had been homeless for more than three years.

A third had a medical disability, or had been hospitalized for mental health issues.

Of the homeless families that included children:

88 percent were headed by a single woman.

A quarter had one family member who was working.

Of the families, 771 were children accompanied by a family member. Eighteen were children under age 18, and alone.

Advocates will do a street count next year, said Walter.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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