So I guess the homelessness news of the week is that the U.S. Conference of Mayors came out with the Annual Hunger and Homelessness Report, suggesting that family homelessness is on the rise and that hunger has reached record rates.
Specifically, the Mayors Report says:
In the area of homelessness, nineteen cities (76 percent), reported an increase in family homelessness, while homelessness among individuals decreased or stayed the same for 16 of the 25 cities (64 percent). Most of the cities that experienced drops in individual homelessness attribute the decline to a policy strategy by federal, state and local governments of instituting 10-year plans to end chronic homelessness among single adults. Not surprisingly, the recession and a lack of affordable housing were cited as the top causes of family homelessness in the surveyed cities.
While there’s no doubt in my mind that the recession has impacted homelessness on all fronts, I hadn’t been made aware that family homelessness was definitively up. In fact, I think I stumbled across just this quandary earlier this year when the Department of Housing and Urban Development released their Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) in July of this year.
But while we may not have any definitive data, Alliance staff are hearing reports from our friends in the field that need is undoubtedly up. From programs and shelters and advocates across the country, we hear stories of both individuals and families who are nearly that precarious edge of stable housing. With unemployment and poverty rates at the highest they’ve seen in decades, we know that those people who are most at risk of homelessness – those people on the economic fringes of society – are face more and more dire circumstances and making harder and harder choices.
There is a note of hope on the horizon, in the form of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP): the $1.5 billion stimulus-funded initiative that is helping communities prevent further increases in homelessness as a result of the recession.
The Mayor’s report asked representatives in communities how HPRP money was being utilized, and whether or not it was achieving its intended ends. Cities reported that they’re not only using this money, but utilizing it to transform their approaches to homelessness, focusing on prevention and rapid re-housing instead of shelter and disjointed services. We’re delighted by this news! We know that if utilized strategically and effectively, HPRP can change the way we approach homelessness nationally – shifting our focus from a shelter-driven system that only manages the problem to a housing-focused strategy that works to prevent and actually end homelessness.
This was easily our favorite highlight in the Mayor’s report!
And while we’re on the subject, we are trying to collect information about how HPRP funds are being used to prevent and end homelessness – especially for families. We’re collecting stories and posting them online (we haven’t started posting yet – no worries, be patient!). If you’re interested in contributing, please take a look at the Alliance Story Bank!