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Homeless drop in state, U.S.

Rick Garcia

On Jan. 24, 2011, when the temperature fell as low as 21 degrees in Denver, 15,116 people were found homeless in Colorado.

The Colorado homeless population accounted for 2.4 percent of the 633,017 found homeless in the U.S. on that night, according to a HUD study released today.

Nationally, the number of homeless declined by 2.1 percent, while Colorado did slightly better, with a year-over-year decline of, a 2.3 percent.

These are among the key national and local finding of a new count on homelessness announced today by U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. Donovan made the announcement at a meeting of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness where he was joined by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, in Washington, D.C.

Rick M. Garcia, HUD Administrator for Region VIII,  which includes Colorado, commented on the report from Denver.

“HUD’s annual “point in time” estimate of the number of homeless persons and families is based on data reported by more than 3,000 cities and counties,” Garcia said.  “While the number of homeless persons vary from community, these communities are reporting modest declines in homelessness in every category or subpopulation including individuals, families, veterans and those experiencing long-term or chronic homelessness.”

HUD reported that the Denver area had a total of 4,809 homeless in 2011. In other words, the Denver area accounts for 31.8 percent of the state’s total. Of the 4,809, 4,277 were sheltered and 532 were not. And 2,200 of them were individuals, while 2,609 of them were member of families.

In the Colorado Springs area, 1,024 homeless were found, with the remaining 9,283 spread throughout the state, according to HUD.

Despite the large numbers in Colorado and the nation, Donovan, who personally participated in the 2011 night-time count, was pleased the numbers went down.

“It’s remarkable that in the wake of the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression, we’re witnessing an across-the-board drop in homelessness,” Donovan said. “This tells us that the Obama Administration’s homelessness strategy is working and the results spur us to continue working to end homelessness in America once and for all.”

Solis agreed.

“These numbers are a step in the right direction, especially for some of our more vulnerable populations such as veterans,” said Solis, who served as chair of the Interagency Council in 2011. “With many working families continuing to struggle, the President’s plan will allow us to redouble our efforts to end and prevent homelessness.”

On Jan. 24 of last year, local planners or “Continuums of Care” across the nation conducted a one-night count of their sheltered and unsheltered homeless populations.  These one-night ‘snapshot’ counts are then reported to HUD as part of state and local grant applications.  While the data reported to HUD does not directly determine the level of a community’s grant funding, these estimates, as well as full-year counts to be released later next year, are crucial in understanding the scope of homelessness and measuring progress in reducing it.

The Obama Administration’s strategic plan to end homelessness is called Opening Doors – a roadmap by 19 federal member agencies of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness along with local and state partners in the public and private sectors. The plan puts the country on a path to end veterans and chronic homelessness by 2015; and to ending homelessness among children, family, and youth by 2020. The plan presents strategies building upon the lesson that mainstream housing, health, education, and human service programs must be fully engaged and coordinated to prevent and end homelessness.

“Over the last 18 months, we’ve seen unprecedented levels of collaboration within the federal government,” said U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Executive Director Barbara Poppe. “The federal government is partnering more effectively with states and local communities across the nation to align our efforts to make progress on the goals of Opening Doors.”

The reductions reported today are attributed in part to the impact of HUD’s $1.5 billion Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, designed to assist individuals and families confronted by a sudden economic crisis.  Funded through the Recovery Act, HPRP spared more than one million persons from homelessness by offering them short-term rent assistance, security and utility deposits, and moving expenses.  The US Conference of Mayors has described HPRP as “fundamentally changing” the way communities respond to homelessness.

Contact John Rebchook at JRCHOOK@gmail.com