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9th July
written by naehblog

Today, we’ve got some big news. It’s really big. It’s huge. It is [cue music] – the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)!!

…It’s really much more exciting than it sounds.

Basically, the AHAR is a comprehensive review of homelessness counts and trends in 2008. But before we delve into the magical world of data and statistics, there’s something you should know about this year’s report [cue suspense music]:

This year, there were TWO kinds of data collected: point-in-time counts and year-long data. Point-in-time counts are pretty much raw numbers. They tell us how many homeless people and what kind. Year-long data give us a little more detail about the demographics of these counts. Year-long data is also a bit newer than the point-in-time counts. This is the second year in a row that HUD collected year-long data, and we’re really pretty excited about the increase in data availability and analysis. (Yes, because we’re nerds.)

So without further ado…

This year’s AHAR shows that, overall, homelessness is flat compared to last year. Numbers vary slightly between the point-in-time count and the year-long data, but the Alliance concludes that the changes, if any, are marginal.

What’s much more interesting than the total number of homeless people is the information about specific types of homelessness – most significantly, chronic homelessness and family homelessness.

AHAR shows that chronic homelessness is up just a bit (under one percent) compared to last year.

Not really news by itself, but when you look at the 2008 point-in-time number compared to the 2005 point-in-time number, you get a much bigger picture of the landscape of chronic homelessness. These numbers show that while chronic homelessness decreased by almost 30 percent from 2005 to 2007, that same number crept upwards between 2007 and 2008!

From our vantage, that means that the great strides we had been making in addressing, preventing, and reducing chronic homelessness not only came to a screeching halt, but that we’ve regressed, gone backwards.

And then the families. Examining the numbers for family homelessness is a little harder because there’s a bigger disparity between the point-in-time count and the year-long data: the point-in-time count shows a marginal difference between 2007 and 2008 while the year-long data shows a 9 percent increase.

So which side are we on? We’re still working it out. But our conclusion is the same either way.

Family homelessness didn’t see the decrease that chronic homelessness did in the last few years, but it wasn’t far behind. Point-time-counts showed that family homelessness decreased by almost 20 percent from 2005 to 2007. So whether family homelessness is up by 9 percent or just hovering around the same number, what we ultimately see is a halt in the progress of reducing family homelessness and perhaps even a reversal in the count trends.

This year’s year-long data does provide an even fuller picture of family homelessness. When we looked more closely at the specs, we saw some new trends. Compared to last year, more homeless families are new to homelessness this year – these aren’t the same families we see over and over again in these annual counts.

And these newly homeless families aren’t coming to homelessness from transitional housing or other “at-risk” situations. The newly homeless families are coming directly from stable housing.

What’s up with that? Our money’s on the economy.

This kind of “new homelessness” may suggest that these families are victims of the economic crisis. In general, family homelessness is caused by some unforeseen financial obstacle that pushes them over the edge of financial stability. And in these days, as more and more families are struggling with unemployment and trying to make ends meet, it seems the toll is being felt by the whole family.

So in sum: mixed bag. It’s not like we haven’t been suspecting these figures all along, but it’s sobering to see some of the information confirmed. But we’re hopeful, though, that we’ll get back on track as some stimulus money starts trickling into communities. In any case, we’re keeping our fingers crossed and our eyes wide open.

If you’re interested in learning more, HUD will post the report on their website today – and keep an eye out for developments and interpretations from other homeless advocacy biggies!

Whew – that was a major low-down. Take your time, read it twice, and don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or jot down a comment if you have questions or reactions!


  1. Anonymous

    Sixty four percent of the communities participating Did NOT provide usable HMIS Data.

    I encourage you to read Appendix B especially pages B14-16.

    Only 36%, or only 80 of the 222 communities that participated in the AHAR provided usable data across all four reporting categories.

    This is a very poor level of usable HMIS data to base any National or State policy decisions.

    Sue Watlov Phillips, M.A., C.S.P
    Executive Director
    Elim Transitional Housing, Inc.
    Mpls. MN.

    The following email was sent to by
    Lawyers Working to End Homelessness
    NLCHP | 1411 K Street, NW, Suite 1400 | Washington | DC | 20005

    Subject: HUD Homeless Data Likely Under states the Problem

    The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today released its Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. The report provides an overview of the demographics of the homeless population served by HUD's homeless assistance programs, and i ncludes the result of a point-in-time count of homelessness conducted in January 2008 in communities that receive homeless assistance funds from HUD.

    Key findings:
    Overall homelessness (as defined by HUD) declined slightly (by 1%) from January 2007 to January 2008: 664,414 persons were homeless on a single night in January 2008, approximately 7500 persons fewer than 2007. This decline is solely due to a decline in homelessness among single individuals.
    The number of homeless families grew by approximately 9% in the sheltered population (i.e. by approximately 43,000 persons); HUD does not estimate the numbers of unsheltered homeless families who are living doubled up.
    Approximately 1.6 million persons were part of the sheltered homeless population from Oct. 1, 2007-Sept. 30, 2008.
    8 states had more unsheltered homeless persons than sheltered: California (70 percent unsheltered), Colorado (53 percent), Florida (59 percent), Georgia (54 percent), Hawaii (55 percent), Michigan (58 percent), Nevada (61 percent), and Oregon (52 percent).
    NLCHP's analysis of the findings:
    The decrease in homelessness found in HUD's report was due solely to=2 0decreases in homelessness among individuals. HUD's report found an increase in family homelessness, both as a percentage of the overall homeless population as well as in real numbers.
    HUD's data on family homelessness actually understates the extent of the problem because HUD uses a narrow definition of homele ssness and&nb sp;does not consider individuals or families homeless if they are living doubled up with other families or in certain other housing situations. According to HUD's data, approximately 29% of families had been staying with family or friends just prior to entering the homeless assistance system.
    The data was collected in January 2008 – too early to show the full impact of the recession on homelessness. Many communities have reported increases in demand for shelter and services over the past year. For example, according to a survey by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, one in five school districts reported serving more chil dren in the Fall of 2008 than in the entire 2007-2008 school year.
    Advocates said that while the decline in the number of single individuals was heartening, the rising number of families was of concern. "HUD uses a more restrictive definition of homelessness than many other federal agencies," said Laurel Weir, Policy Director of the=2 0National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP). "If HUD used the same definition of family homelessness as the U.S. Department of Education, the number of homeless families would have been even higher."

    "No one should be un der the illusion that homelessness in America is decreasing," said NLCHP's Executive Director, Maria Foscarinis. "In fact, the foreclosure crisis and economic recession are driving hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes, and shelters in communities across the country are overflowing."

  2. Anonymous

    Sharon West
    Children of God Body of Christ

    I can not agree with Hud. Our findings are in agreement with NLCHP and ETH. NLCHP and ETH's statistical data seems to be the findings that can be seen on the "street" The street isn't correct either, really the forests and vacant lots are more correct.

    Many "Tent Cities" are developing in the forest's of Florida and on city vacant lots in Ontario California. If HUD wants to get an eye opener they should visit the internet at and look into homeless videos.

    These people have not just fallen into the cracks they are in the cracks. They are building "tent cities" and it is everywhere. The police are cutting up their tents and are making them leave, but they are still homeless. They are not going to shelters are any where near transitional housing.

    Statistics are fine but we need to know these are real people and they are hurting.
    HUD please take a look!
    Sharon West/COGBOC