WASHINGTON: On Wednesday, February 28th, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a report to Congress on homelessness in America. The report included both a “point-in-time” count, which measures the number of homeless individuals on a given night, as well as a count collected over a three month period using the Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS).
HUD reported that on any given night an estimated 754,000 persons will experience homelessness throughout the U.S. Resulting in about 300,000 more people then shelter beds in the U.S.
HUD’s staggering finding is an indictment of the previously absent political will to end homelessness. This report confirms the need for both emergency response legislation, such as the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (H.R. 840), to double federal dollars in homeless assistance programs, as well as the need for a comprehensive response to the affordable housing crisis in our nation. This includes the passage of the Bringing America Home Act (to be reintroduced in the 110th Congress), the establishment of a National Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and significant increases in existing federal housing programs.
While the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) supports HUD’s efforts, any attempt to estimate the number of people experiencing homelessness is limited by time and practical restraints, whether in one night, three months or over the course of a year. Additionally, homeless counts are based on individuals living on the streets, in shelters or transitional housing facilities. By using HUD’s current restrictive definition of homelessness, the counts fail to include many homeless persons, especially those living in suburban and rural areas where doubling up or living in motels is common place. More expansive definitions, like that used by the U.S. Department of Education, would include these individuals, allowing a more accurate estimate of the homeless population.
NCH stresses that ending homelessness requires long term far-reaching action to both house those currently facing homelessness, as well as to prevent those at immediate risk of losing housing and becoming homeless. This cannot be done without the establishment of increased affordable housing, livable incomes, educational and vocational training, universal health care, and the assurance of prot