The case of the confusing homeless count results

Yesterday we at the Reporter received a press release about the results of a homeless count in Hudson County and statewide. It’s always good to know many people are on the streets and need help, but this particular press release provoked more questions than answers, and we submitted a few questions to the organization that sent the release. The organization that sent the release was different from the organization that conducted the count.
We hadn’t heard back by the end of the day, so here’s the info we were sent. Just keep in mind that this count judges a time period from January of 2005 to January of 2007, ending two years ago; in other words, the statistics pertain to a two-year period well before the current recession began.
There is no explanation provided for why some types of homelessness increased and some decreased. We’re waiting on those answers as well. We’ll post them here when we get them, because we’d like to know more about the estimated 3,000 people who are homeless in Hudson County.

Anyway, here goes:
On Jan. 13, 2009, the Homelessness Research Institute of the National Alliance to End Homelessness released its second Homelessness Counts report. According to the report, Hudson County experienced a 39 percent decrease in unsheltered homelessness from 2005 to 2007. However, there was a 23 percent increase in the chronically homeless population, and a 10 percent increase in homeless persons in families.
(The explanation for the drastic decrease could not be ascertained by the Reporter yesterday.)
A number of factors contribute to homelessness — lack of income, eviction due to foreclosure, physical health and disability, mental health and trauma, substance abuse, and weak social networks — but a lack of affordable housing, both in New Jersey and across the nation is the primary driver, according to the Institute.
(More info from us: Hudson County has three regular homeless shelters. The Hoboken Homeless Shelter succeeded last year in moving almost 90 homeless people off the streets and into affordable housing. The shelter also provides job training and warm meals for scores of homeless in the area, and has strict rules for those who stay for the night.)
The report, which contains both state and national data, shows a 10 percent decrease in homelessness in the nation, from 744,313 per night in January 2005 to 671,859 per night in January 2007.
Hudson County saw a 4 percent reduction in the total homeless population between 2005 and 2007.
The unsheltered homeless population was the only group to see a significant reduction, with a 39 percent decrease between 2005 and 2007. For the state of New Jersey, the overall picture is much different, with an 11 percent decrease in the total homeless population between 2005 and 2007. During that same time period, there was a 19 percent decrease in homeless families and a 46 percent decrease in chronically homeless individuals.

Local advocates and service providers fear the national trend may be reversed and blame the current recession and housing foreclosure crisis for more recent increases in homelessness that they have witnessed.
“Ending homelessness is no longer an impossible task it is something we can and must achieve. We have learned from each other what it takes to end homelessness. There are proven strategies that work. They are already being implemented in New Jersey by counties, cities and non-profits that have developed local plans to end homelessness,” said Richard W. Brown, chairperson of the New Jersey Advocacy Network to End Homelessness. “It is imperative that we use the technologies and strategies that we employed to reduce homelessness to address this new wave. The response to recession-related homelessness must not simply be shelters and soup kitchens. Instead, we must employ the tools of prevention, rapid re-housing, and linkage to services that have been proven to work. There is still hope to end homelessness, but not if we flood our towns and cities with millions more homeless people.”
“Our hope is that this year the new Administration and Congress will make ending the tragedy of homelessness an important part of their plans for change,” said Nan Roman, President of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “We encourage them to use the upcoming economic recovery bill to help people who lose their jobs or are evicted as the result of foreclosure to avoid homelessness. Small amounts of money for rent or utilities can help people stay in their homes. Furthermore, investing in affordable housing through initiatives like the National Housing Trust Fund will help ensure that no one is without a home.”
“The New Jersey Advocacy Network to End Homelessness calls on Senators Menendez and Lautenberg as well as all of the members of the House of Representatives to support the Economic Recovery legislation that includes funding to prevent and end homelessness,” said Mr. Brown. “Specifically, the New Jersey Advocacy Network to End Homelessness, we ask them to support, we ask them to support $2 billion for prevention and re-housing, 400,000 new Section 8 vouchers, and $10 billion for the National Housing trust Fund.”
The 2005 and 2007 estimates are compilations of point-in-time counts collected by local Continuums of Care (CoCs) — the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defined jurisdictions that oversee homeless services and are required to count their homeless populations every other year on one night in January. As such, the report provides data on CoCs within states as well. Despite limitations, the estimates act as a tool for assessing the progress the nation has made on reducing homelessness.
Data for every state and community (CoC) for which data are available, as well as an explanation of the methods used to collect the data, are included in the full report.

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