The State of Homelessness
Our post today comes from Alliance research apprentice, Shambhavi Manglik.
As we all know, the largest takeaway from The State of Homelessness in American is that homelessness is up—and the increase is largely due to the recession. That’s why I think that while homeless counts data are interesting and invaluable, the section of the report that I was most drawn to was the chapter on economic indicators.
While all of the indicators discussed in the report help inform our understanding of what the recession truly means for families at risk of experiencing homelessness, I found the findings related to unemployment and housing cost burden to be most illuminating.
Unemployment, unfortunately, is the most glaring, and painful results of the recession. The nationwide increase in the number of unemployed persons from 2008 to 2009—nearly 60 percent— is pretty shocking in and of itself. And while losing a job will create hardship for just about anyone, it has real and significant consequences for families who are already struggling to make ends meet and unfortunately, that’s the experience of most people at risk of experiencing homelessness; they’re already just barely getting by.
And why’s that? Well, one reason is severe housing cost burden. The Alliance defines severe housing cost burden as households who are in poverty and spend 50 percent or more of their monthly income on rent. And it’s no surprise that, like unemployment, severe housing cost burden increased from 2008 to 2009 by 9 percent. The number of severely cost burdened households in 2009 was estimated by the report to be close to six million.
It’s pretty clear to imagine what happens if someone already spending more than 50 percent of his or her income loses their job. However, severe housing cost burden is also a significant challenge for low-income workers and can contribute to housing instability for this population. A previous Alliance brief, “Working Poor People in the United States” shows that working poor people are far more likely to experience severe housing cost burden than the general working population. We learned in The State of Homelessness report that wages for this group also decreased from the 2008 to 2009 period – even more than wages decreased for the general working population.
Between severe housing cost burden and disproportionately decreased wages – not to mention unemployment! – it’s clear not only how homelessness increased during the recession, but why.
What’s also clear is that homelessness is largely an economic problem – and one that can be remedied by making housing more affordable. As team HRI put the report together, we observed (over and over) that housing cost burden was closely associated with homelessness and that those states with an above average increase in housing cost burden also saw an above average increase in homelessness too.
The flip side of that observation is that more access to affordable housing can quell homelessness, curb homelessness, end homelessness. It’s a tune we’ve been singing for some time now – that housing is the solution to homelessness. Housing is the cornerstone of recovery, of employment, of education. By increasing access to affordable housing, we can end homelessness together.
For more about The State of Homelessness in American, our research, or homelessness, please visit our our website.
Research Associate Pete Witte guest blogs today on the most commonly used terms in our State of Homelessness report.
Many readers of this blog are familiar with homeless terms and jargon, such as “chronic homeless,” “permanent supportive housing beds,” “persons in families,” “youth homeless,” and so on. While you may be familiar with the homeless terms, there are always very specific definitions for each term. This is especially true and important when it comes to data in research reports. We all want to be on the same page when we discuss the data!
While future blog posts about the State of Homelessness will go into greater depth on specific economic or demographic factors, I want to define the report’s four economic and demographic terms today so you have a clear understanding what we are discussing.
For each economic factor we essentially tried to capture a data point that would either reveal increased or decreased economic vulnerability across time. And for the demographic factors, we tried to capture a data point that would show increased or decreased risk among populations who are at high risk of homelessness.
Here are the definitions for the report’s terms:
- Severe housing cost burdened households are the number of households who are in poverty and spend more than 50 percent of their total household income on rent (by household, this could be a single person, a couple with children, or an extended family of ten people).
- The number of people who are unemployed is the number of people who are out of a job and actively looking for work.
- Average income among poor workers is the number of dollars that an individual earns over a 12 month period. Here, we restricted the population by those people who were classified as living under the federal definition of poverty and included only those who worked 27 weeks or more over the past 12 months.
- Foreclosed properties are the number of housing units that have at least one foreclosure note over the course of the past year.
- Doubled up people are individuals or members of a family who live with another family or friends due to economic need. For the purposes of this report, doubled up is restricted by income (those who earn at or less than 125 percent of the federal poverty line).
- People Released from Prison are individuals who were released from state or federal prisons or jails.
- Youth aged out of foster care are the number of young people who left foster care with the status of emancipation. The age of the children included those up to age 18, unless they remained wards of the state beyond that age.
- Uninsured population is the number of people who lack insurance coverage as reported to the American Community Survey. (Those who had Indian Health Service coverage were considered uninsured for the purposes of this report, but that population is miniscule.)
We’ll go into greater depth on a number of these terms in future posts. In the meantime, we’d love to hear if you have any thoughts or questions about the definitions, let us know in the comments!
This week, we kept seeing more clips about our newest report, The State of Homelessness in America! We’re so excited to see continued interest in the report and – as you may have seen – we’re going to continue to write about the report on this blog to explicate our findings, definitions, and other nerdy bits (latest installment: a post about data from Pete) so stay tuned!
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Shaun Donovan also made the news this week with an opinion piece about a national effort to end homelessness. Placed just in time to coincide with impending community point-in-time counts, the secretary encourages communities to do their best to pursue accurate data, “But more collaboration alone won’t restore confidence in government; we also need to produce results. And producing results requires smarter decisions based on sound data.” (What’s a point-in-time count? Glad you asked.)
HUD made news again this week when they renewed funding for homeless assistance programs, spreading $1.4 billion nationwide to help organizations providing services for people experiencing homelessness. Local stories (like this one) outlined specific amounts for their particular communities and many noted the pervasive need for such funding to provide assistance to their economically vulnerable friends and neighbors.
And in other news – today, the Alliance staff is off-campus thinking up ways to do our work better. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, don’t hesitate to comment, Tweet, of leave us a note on our Facebook page!
Since the release of The State of Homelessness in America – and frankly, long before that – we’ve gotten questions about homelessness data.
It was my job at the Alliance to conduct data acquisition and analysis for The State of Homelessness report – and we thought it might be nice to shed some light on the process:
First, we needed to acquire all of the data. Now I’d love to say that this was as easy as going to websites of public-data sources and clicking a link that read Click here to quickly download all the data you need for your report-making-fun, but as anyone who has worked with data knows, data acquisition is much more complicated.
It was further complicated by the fact that – as report readers know – we gathered a lot of data. If you check out the Appendix of the report, you can see that we acquired data from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Administration for Children and Families, and Realty Trac – just to name a handful.
Getting our hands on the data, as anyone who’s tried to extract data from a federal agency can tell you, was no small feat. We made Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, sent request letters by email, downloaded huge micro-data files that took hours, and so on.
Once a data sources were acquired and once I was familiar with the variables, definitions, and limitations of the data, it was time to run analyses, organize and interpret the data, and put the data into tables for further interpretation. What we receive are huge files – often spreadsheets – of raw data. We then had to filter through the data, find the specific pieces of information we were looking for, and interpret those into data that we could use for our report.
For example, we knew we wanted to measure income vulnerability, but we needed to figure out how: did we want to include employment income or all sources of income? What about the average number of weeks worked? Average income among poor workers or all workers or both? These are the types of questions we asked as we put the project through quality assurance crash tests.
From the beginning, we planned to assess changes in homeless counts, as these changes have been tracked by the Alliance for a number of years. Most of the economic and demographic factors were also planned but some of the measures were given tune-ups as we went along. And that meant going back into the fray to get more information.
I know this doesn’t answer every question but I’m hoping that this helps readers understand what kind of crunching the data went through before it went into our report! We look forward to hearing from you about The State of Homelessness and we hope that the data in the report proves useful as we move closer to ending homelessness.
We appreciate it, we really do! We appreciate all the support that the entire community has shown for our The State of Homelessness report.
But if you’ve done all those things (and nothing more) – you’re probably missing the best part of our report!
The interactive tools. (Cuz really, what’s better than maps?)
The Alliance produced a series of maps for each of the indicators in the report. A few of my faves:
- The total homelessness by state map that shows the homeless population by state and the percent chance by state from 2008 to 2009.
- The severe housing cost burden among poor households by state which shows the number of households that are paying 50+ percent of their income on rent and shows the percentage change of those numbers from 2008 to 2009.
- The unemployment by state map – even if it is no big surprise and wholly depressing
- The doubled up map – mostly because this is maybe one of the coolest indicators in the report (in my opinion).
But that’s 4 of 12, guys – there are way more maps to check out and we’re not even done building all of them yet! They’re a great way to learn more about your specific state and get a visual representation of how some states are doing compared to others. Yeah, so Texas, California, Florida aren’t doing so well – but there are other states that will likely surprise you!
Which ones, you ask? You have to check them out to see!
As you know, it was a big week for us! On Wednesday, we released The State of Homelessness in America at a press conference at the National Press Club and we had our fingers-crossed that people would care – and respond.
And to our delight, they did!
Our new friend Henri Cauvin at the Washington Post does a great job in summing up the major findings of the report (which you can also find here) and noting the major trends that go through the report. One of the important concerns, Cauvin notes, is the unease moving forward as strapped state budgets try to serve more people with fewer resources – which is probably exactly why Governing magazine ran the story as well.
Doubled up was the story for the Huffington Post. Reporter Laura Bassett points to housing prices and unemployment as key motivators of the 12 percent increase in doubling up; something that Susan Campbell also pointed out in the Hartford Courant.
Nan got an opportunity to voice her own thoughts about the report – not just on CSPAN but as an editorial contributor for the DC paper, The Hill. In it, she waxes positive, noting: “With adequate and well-targeted federal policy and resources to support local ingenuity and determination, we can ensure that increased homelessness is not another sad legacy of the economic recession.”
And the truth is, that is the right moral of the story. While the data may shown a grim picture, the point – dear friends – is that we have the information necessary to prevent and end homelessness right now.
Did our report get covered in your paper? Let us know – we might’ve missed it! And we’ll be sure to include it in our clips!
So here’s the headliner: the recession contributed to an increase in overall homelessness from 2008 to 2009, and family households experienced the largest percentage increase. The increases, coupled with worsening economic and demographic indicators of homelessness, paint an austere picture of The State of Homelessness in America.
Other Major Findings:
- The nation’s homeless population increased by approximately 3 percent from 2008 to 2009. The largest percentage increase among subpopulations was in the number of family households experiencing homelessness, which increased by over 4 percent. In Mississippi, the number of people in homeless families increased by 260 percent.
- The doubled up population increased by 12 percent to more than 6 million people from 2008 to 2009. In Rhode Island the number increased by 90 percent; in South Dakota the number more than doubled.
- Nearly three-quarters of all U.S. households with incomes below the federal poverty line spent over 50 percent of monthly household income on rent. Forty states saw an increase in the number of poor households experiencing severe housing cost burden from 2008 to 2009.
- California, Florida, and Nevada – states known to have been disproportionately impacted by the recent housing crisis – have high rates of homelessness and high rates of unemployment, foreclosure, housing cost burden, lack of insurance, and doubling up.
- People in doubled up living situations, released from incarceration, and aged out of foster care are twice as likely to experience homelessness than the average poor person; these populations are twenty times as likely to experience homelessness as the average American.
So the verdict is: the state of homelessness isn’t great.
In fact, Nan points out, “These findings project what depressed wages, stagnant unemployment, unrelenting housing cost burden, and the lagging pace of economic recovery really means: increases in homelessness and heightened risk of homelessness for more and more Americans.”
Which is why it’s time for us to renew our commitment to ending homelessness.
As the new Congress and the Administration work to revitalize the American economy, it’s our job to make it clear that must include homelessness interventions in the recovery strategy – clearly, as these data show, curbing and ending homelessness is a critical part of economic recovery.
Want more? Check out the report online.
The Alliance hosted a press conference this morning to release The State of Homelessness in America, a first-of-it’s-kind comprehensive examination into homelessness counts, economic indicators, demographic factors, and policy recommendations.
We were delighted and honored to be joined by Senator Jack Reed (D – RI) and consumer advocate Ebony Roscoe of Community of Hope. Both were able to provide unique perspectives on homelessness – and the solutions to this social problem.
Photos from the event will be up on our Facebook page soon and you can access the report online. And you better believe that in the weeks to come, we’ll be dissecting findings, themes, and trends from the report on this blog!
As a very special treat, we’re giving you the scoop – so listen up.
The Alliance is very pleased and very proud to present The State of Homelessness in America, a thorough, in-depth, first-of-its-kind examination into homelessness across the country.
And it’s not just another Counts report – we’ve taken it to the next level! This year, not only do we review the changes in homelessness at the national and state levels from 2008 and 2009, we’ve also thrown in some indicators.
Acknowledging the interest in the recession’s impact on homelessness, the considerable roles that economic factors play in homelessness, and the existence of specific demographic groups at increased risk of homelessness, we’ve also analyzed factors associated with homelessness. They include: severe housing cost burden, real income, unemployment, foreclosure, lack of insurance, doubling up, youth aging out of homelessness, and release from incarceration.
(Yup – it’s a hefty read).
In the days following, we’ll be digging deeper into our findings and the implications of those findings. You can follow this series of posts by clicking on “The State of Homelessness” category below. But until then, enjoy this special, exclusive, for-our-blog-readers-only advance of the report. You can find it online here.