Twice as many people at risk of homelessness in county

Numbers surge as recession-era aid ends

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

Homelessness is on the rise again.

It's been surprising to note in recent years that the Great Recession did not result in huge numbers of destitute people landing in America's streets. Many experts have said that's due largely to a targeted infusion of federal stimulus money for homeless prevention and other anti-poverty programs — most of which dried up last year.

Now, the numbers are growing again. According to the Council for the Homeless, the local agency coordinating a response to homelessness, the total number of unsheltered people in Clark County rose incrementally from 176 in 2012 to 190 in 2013; the number of people in emergency shelter decreased incrementally, from 257 to 234.

Those numbers mask the real story: people who are at risk of homelessness — one step away from the street, and forced to double up or "couch surf" with family or friends — zoomed from 628 in 2012 to 1,127 in 2013. Nearly 1,000 of those people were in families with children; 556 of them were under age 18, the homeless council says.

"And it's only a drop in the bucket, that number, compared to what the real number in the community would be," said Andy Silver, the executive director of the Council for the Homeless. But, he added, years' worth of data show that only a small number of people in this at-risk category ever become truly homeless.

These numbers were determined during the annual Point in Time Count that many agencies across the nation perform on a single day. This year it was Jan. 31. Staff and volunteers from local social service agencies, nonprofit organizations and more surveyed people at hot meal sites, food banks, homeless shelters, outdoor campsites and on the streets — in addition to the Project Homeless Connect event, a resource fair organized by the Council for the Homeless and held on the same day as the Point in Time count.

Silver pointed out that the number of unsheltered families in Clark County — living outside or in a car, for example -- decreased by half, from 66 people in 22 families in 2012 to 34 people in 11 families in 2013. The number of unsheltered single adults rose from 88 to 144.

And the number of unsheltered, "chronically" homeless individuals rose from 32 in 2012 to 40 in 2013. The subcategories that drive that tally — people who are severely mentally ill or chronic substance abusers, for example — grew across the board.

"This year's count highlights the community's success in providing housing and supportive services to homeless families," Silver said. "The count also highlights two areas where the community will redouble its efforts: working with single adults who have long histories of homelessness, and connecting at-risk families to job training, education, and other services they need to avoid homelessness.

"There are already conversations under way on how best to address these issues and we are confident we will see results in next year's count."

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandates that agencies across the nation perform Point in Time counts each year. Data are used both locally and nationally to track trends, plan and allocate resources.

Take a look at the details at Council for the Homeless.