In case you missed it, HUD released the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress yesterday, showing that homelessness went up one percent overall from 2009 to 2010. For the major numbers, check out the post from yesterday.
Here at the Alliance, we were surprised that homelessness in the United States did not increase more significantly despite the effects of the recession. We surmise that the flat numbers, in spite of an idling economy, are a testament to improved homeless assistance systems and the adoption of housing-based strategies to end homelessness.
But we’re not out of the woods yet. Like we’ve been saying for months, budget cuts at the federal, state, and local levels could break the dam that’s been keeping increased homelessness at bay for the last couple of years.
And it’s not just budget cuts that we’re concerned about. For the first time, the impact of the federal Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) was included in the AHAR. The $1.5 billion program, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), offered communities significant new resources to curb homelessness resulting from the recession. And communities used that money – in the first year, HPRP funds prevented and ended homelessness for an estimated 690,000 people. Those funds are also credited with decreasing the length of time people stayed homeless in suburban and rural communities, where the average length of stay in an emergency family shelter declined from 62 days to 40 days.
The three-year stimulus program ends next year and it’ll leave a big hole in the budgets of many local homeless assistance programs – a hole that will only grow wider with the aforementioned budget cuts. Coupled with cuts to mainstream poverty programs, local and state services, and the relentless rise in need, it’s possible that homelessness may rise in the coming years.
So what can we do? Maybe we can’t fix the economy, unemployment, or the housing crisis – but we can make our voices heard. Tell your community leader, your legislator, your Members of Congress that we will not risk increased homelessness in the United States. Let us know you’re interested and we’ll tell you how to get involved.