- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Some 1.6 million people were forced to use an emergency shelter or transitional housing at some point between 2006 and 2007, but the number of people who are chronically homeless dropped nearly 30 percent from 2005 to 2007, according to a report made public Tuesday.

“We can all be encouraged that we’re making progress in reducing chronic street homelessness in America,” said Steve Preston, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, which released the findings. “But we also must recognize that we have a long way to go to find a more lasting solution.”

The report, which analyzed data from across the country, included an annual count of homeless people on a single night in 2007 and, for the first time, an examination of homeless numbers over one full year, from Oct. 1, 2006, through Sept. 30.

The report did not include 2008 data that would reflect the current economy, mortgage crisis and foreclosures. Report co-author Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor, said it’s “too soon to tell” whether that will cause an increase in homelessness.

Looking first at a snapshot, the report found that the number of people on the street or in a shelter on a single night in January 2007 was 671,888, a drop from 759,101 in January 2006 and 763,010 in January 2005. Most were temporarily homeless.

But many were chronically homeless. HUD defines a chronically homeless person as a disabled individual who has been continuously homeless for more than one year or has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.

The report found there were 123,833 chronically homeless people in shelters and on the street on that single night in January 2007, compared with 155,623 in 2006 and 175,914 in 2005 - a decrease of about 52,000 between 2005 and 2007.

Philip Mangano, appointed by President Bush in 2002 to lead the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, said, “These are the numbers we’ve been waiting for, for three decades,” especially the 52,000 fewer chronically homeless. He said chronic homelessness is a moral problem and a drain on community funds, and Mr. Bush in 2003 set the goal of reducing and ending it in the next decade.

HUD officials and the report’s authors said the decline in homelessness is a result in part of increased numbers of transitional housing units and better counting at local levels. They also said the new yearlong data will serve as an important baseline to track and understand trends in the future.

That data revealed that about 1.6 million people used emergency shelters or transitional housing at some point during a one-year time period, including 1.1 million individuals and 473,500 people who have families. About 70 percent of sheltered homeless are adult men, rarely older than 62. The typical homeless family in a shelter is a mother with two or three children, the data found.

Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said he’s glad people are discussing how to end homelessness, but the coalition’s network of shelters and soup kitchens recently has seen an increased demand for shelter and food, owing to “the unofficial recession that we’re in and the looming foreclosure crisis.”

Mr. Mangano said while there’s no hard evidence or data from 2008 yet, he has traveled across the country and heard stories of families who have become homeless because of the mortgage crisis. He said they are mostly renters whose landlords lost their properties to foreclosure. He said that it clearly deserves attention and that “we absolutely have to be vigilant about it.”

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