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Federal Study Finds Small Decline In Homelessness

Supportive Housing Efforts Cited

Monica Polanco

June 16, 2010

The number of homeless people across the country declined by 5 percent in 2009, while the number of homeless families rose by 7 percent, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The annual report, released Wednesday, also sought for the first time to determine the effect of the recession on homelessness, said Mercedes Marquez, who oversees HUD's office of Community Planning and Development.

Volunteers across the country who counted people living in shelters or outdoors on a given night in January 2009 found 643,000 homeless people.

Marquez said the recession has had a greater effect on homelessness than the national foreclosure crisis. People who lose their homes typically can still pay rent, she said, while those who lose their jobs tend to move in with other families.

The second group faces a greater danger of becoming homeless because they may not be able to continue living with their hosts.

Chronic or long-term homelessness, Marquez said, has continued to drop since 2006. HUD estimates that the number of chronically homeless people declined to nearly 111,000 during the January 2009 "point-in-time" counts, a decrease of more than 10 percent from 2008 and 30 percent from 2006.

Much of the decrease, Marquez said, is due to the increase in permanent supportive housing, which grew from 177,000 to 219,000 beds from 2006. Such housing provides residents with affordable rentals and permanent services like money management and psychotherapy.

HUD's report does not measure the effect of the $1.5 billion federal Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program that began last fall. Next year's report will deal with that program, Marquez said.

Carol Walter, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, said HUD's report should motivate state leaders to invest in supportive housing.

Walter's group released its own study last fall showing that the number of homeless families in the state rose by at least 33 percent from 2008 to 2009. Walter's report also showed that, overall, the number of homeless people dropped by less than 1 percent.

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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