Counting the Homeless in The U.S.

Some Areas See Homeless Increases
Despite Overall Decrease in Numbers

Homeless MapThe media’s attention to the recent NJ Counts 2014 – the statewide point in time count of the homeless – raised questions about trends in homelessness in New Jersey and across the country.

While nationally, we have seen decreases in homelessness – 9% since 2007 – it is significant to point out that homelessness is on the rise in some parts of the country, including North Dakota.

On January 24, 2014, Alissa Walker of Gawker Media recently wrote, “Where Homelessness Is Getting Worse (It’s Not the Places You’d Think.)” She reports that North Dakota has seen the biggest increase in homelessness and this is a reminder that the work to end homelessness is far from over.

“In North Dakota, where homelessness rose by 234%, this is likely due to the overall population boom from the fracking industry, which caused many people to move to the state for this type of work and find that the housing is too expensive to afford. Likewise, the loss of other industries compounded with the housing bubble might have contributed to homelessness in other states.”

A recent 2013 HUD map gives a different perspective and shows that,

“In 2013, 50% of all homeless Americans lived in five states: California, Florida, New York, Massachusetts, and Texas. So even though the total number of homeless people is going down in California, it still has the largest homeless population in the country. In fact, one fifth of all homeless Americans live in Los Angeles and New York City (where the homeless population surprisingly went up 13% last year).”

The current numbers that are available to us around homelessness raise some important questions about how we count the homeless.

“ … There’s no formalized way to count a homeless population-each city does it differently. Most cities rely on a team of volunteers to do the counting on a single night (or series of nights) and might have changed the way they do their counts, or even who they count as homeless’ (residents who are sheltered vs. living on the streets) during the past five years.”

“This data should be a call to action for the federal government to create a standardized way to measure homelessness across the country. The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness has laid out a plan to end homelessness in the U.S. by 2020, which seems incredibly ambitious after observing these stats.”

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