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HUD Report: Fewer Homeless People, More Homeless Families

Today, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released its annual report on homelessness in America. The report found that the number of homeless people declined slightly from 2008 to 2009, but that the Great Recession and housing crash have left more families with children homeless. All in all, on any given night, about 643,000 people were homeless in 2009; 1.56 million people total spent a night in a shelter.

“As a nation, we appear to be doing a better job sheltering those who might otherwise be living on our streets but clearly homelessness is impacting a greater share of families with children,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said in a release. The report noted 78 percent of people in shelters are adults, 62 percent are members of a minority group and 61 percent are male.

Between 2008 and 2009, the number of individuals in emergency shelters and transitional housing programs declined 5 percent. But the number of homeless households increased 7 percent, to more than 170,000, and has soared 30 percent since 2007. The report notes:

The continued rise in family homelessness across the three years, from 131,000 families in 2007 to 170,000 families in 2009, is almost certainly related to the recession. However, the increase was more pronounced between 2007 and 2008, even through unemployment rates remained high during [2009]. It may be that many families already at risk of becoming homeless lacked sufficient support networks and became homeless almost immediately after the economy turned down. A much larger group turned to family and friends and may be doubled up and still at great risk of becoming homeless. The percentage of adults in families who reported that they had been staying with families before entering shelter increased steadily over the three-year period, from 24.2 percent in 2007 to 29.4 percent in 2009, as did the total percentage reporting that they had been in some sort of “housed” situation before becoming homeless, reaching 62.5 percent in 2009.

All of the increase in family homelessness in 2009 compared with 2008 was in the use of emergency shelter by family members, rather than transitional housing. Families stayed longer in shelters in 2009 than in 2008, with the median number of nights rising from 30 to 36. Not only did family homelessness continue to increase between 2008 and 2009, it also seems to have become more severe in the sense that it took the typical family longer to leave shelter.

And the report notes that the high rate of unemployment, peaking foreclosure crisis and the sustained incidence of families “doubling up” in houses in response might drive the number of homeless families up in 2010.

A recent study found a nearly five-fold increase in the rate of housing overcrowding, suggesting that many families are doubling up in response to the economic downturn. If some of these family support networks already are struggling to make ends meet, some of the doubled-up families may find their way into the homeless residential service system during 2010.

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