(There’s a lot of data in the 2013 HUD report on homelessness. This is part 1 of The Urbanist’s series to better understand this data. You can see Part 2 here.)

homelessness-by-state
Courtesy of HUD

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) does a yearly analysis of homelessness in the US and released their research for 2013 in August. This report is largely based on a single night count of homelessness among participating Continuum of Care (CoC) organizations, local planning organizations that manage all aspects of homelessness from providing shelter to providing permanent housing. The federal government provides most of the funding for homeless services in the country and ties the use of that money to guidelines regarding those services. Among these guidelines are requirements regarding the structure and responsibilities of local organizations that want to be eligible for funds and these organizations are referred to as CoCs. In Seattle, there is a coordination of resources and organizations, referred to as the Seattle/King County CoC. (I will be publishing a series of posts about the data found in this report, focusing on the Seattle/King County CoC.)

To get a handle on the makeup and number of people experiencing homelessness, HUD attempts to collect accurate information on the entire homeless population without counting anyone twice. Data collection mostly depends on a ‘single night count.’ Organizations responsible for solving homelessness conduct a count of the population within their jurisdiction on a single night each year. The count usually takes place at the end of January, and the results from Seattle were widely published this year. This method isn’t perfect—it relies heavily on volunteers and possibly misses variations in homelessness during the year—but it is the best data available for understanding homelessness in the United States.

homelessness-count
Courtesy of Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness

Important Findings

The scale and details of the homeless problem in the US can be very discouraging, but there are also reasons for hope. Some of the particularly stark findings from this year’s report include:

  • There are 610,042 homeless people in the US.
  • Nearly 35% were unsheltered. Unsheltered areas are defined as a location not ordinarily used for sleeping and can include ‘temporary shelters’ such as a car or abandoned building, but also areas such as tent cities.
  • 23% of all homeless people were under the age of 18.

While Seattle saw an increase in homelessness between 2013 and 2014, the region was growing. Additionally, there is good news on the federal level regarding homelessness:

  • Chronic homelessness of individuals decreased 7% since 2012 and 25% since 2007.
  • Homelessness among veterans declined 24% between 2009 and 2013.
  • Since 2007 there has been a 23% decline in unsheltered homelessness.
  • Those in shelters has increased 1% since 2007.
  • Homelessness overall declined 9% since 2007.
  • 61,846 fewer people are homeless since 2007.

Federal Homelessness Goals

The federal government has four primary goals regarding homelessness:

  • End chronic homelessness by 2015, defined as continuous homelessness for at least one year or four episodes of homelessness in the last three years.
  • End homelessness for veterans by 2015.
  • End homelessness for youth and families by 2020.
  • Make progress towards ending all homeless.

It’s not clear to me whether the federal goals are on track to be successful. The report notes that the progress towards ending homelessness of youth and families has seen small declines, suggesting that the goal is not on track. Additionally, the report’s stated goal of providing a “path” toward ending homelessness is not clear enough to understand what progress towards that goal might look like beyond a declining rate of homelessness.

Seattle and Washington

Some of the notable data from 2013 in Washington State includes:

  • 17,760 homeless people in 2013.
  • 4th largest decline in homelessness between 2007 and 2013, 5,619 (24%).
  • 3rd largest absolute decline in homeless families between 2012 and 2013: -2,088 (-22.6%); and the 4th largest between 2007 and 2013: -2,947 (-29.2%).
  • 2,196 chronically homeless people.
  • 1,136 unaccompanied homeless children and youth.

All the data for Seattle is a combination of Seattle and King County since there is a coordinated effort in this region. Some of the notable data in 2013 from the Seattle/King County CoC includes:

  • 3rd most homeless people (9,106) among participating CoCs.
  • 6th most homeless people in families (3,120) among participating CoCs.
  • 7th largest number (5,986) of homeless individuals among participating CoCs.
  • 7th largest number (533) of unaccompanied, homeless children and youth among participating CoCs.
  • 9th largest number (682) of homeless veterans among participating CoCs.
homeless-people-in-Seattle
Courtesy of HUD

In future posts, I’ll expand further on the data for the Seattle/King County CoC since the national report does not discuss these numbers in detail.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Very interesting. But I want to see rates by city! The colored map is helpful, but looking at a whole state is distracting. My image of homelessness is that it’s mostly an urban phenomena. And rates would be very helpful by city – our 3rd place becomes more important when we see how many people San Jose has.

    • Yep, that’s coming up next in the series. It’s taking more work because the summary report of the data doesn’t have that so I had to go back to their original data and piece it together.

  2. This is the kind of data that can help determine the cost of simply supplying housing for the homeless, which has been found to be cheaper for the taxpayer than continuous spending on social servies, emergency room visits, police staffing, etc. Study here: http://www.vox.com/2014/5/30/5764096/its-three-times-cheaper-to-give-housing-to-the-homeless-than-to-keep

    And once the core problem is solved by providing public housing, ideally these individuals eventually get on their feet and financially support themselves, benefiting society in the long run.

    • Indeed, this is the case for most people facing chronic homelessness. Most policymakers agree providing housing for this group is less expensive than services for living on the street. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. First, having enough money to provide this housing is always a challenge, especially with shrinking federal resources. Second, moving people into housing is more complicated than simply providing the housing.

      Of course all of this only addresses a small segment of homelessness. People who are not chronically homeless make up a large proportion of the total and programs to address this are frequently much different.

      • I work with the homeless, many lost their homes when they lost their jobs to over seas, that is a large percent of the increase of the homeless in the last 2yrs.

  3. I’m interested in why Seattle/King County has done much better in reducing family homelessness while unsheltered homelessness has increased (but decreased dramatically nationally). The argument of population increase does not explain that disparity.

    • The city has specifically targeted some resources to getting families off the street and quickly into transitional or permanent housing…

        • For example, the City’s unofficial position is that there should be no children in encampments. When notified about the presence of families at Nicklesville or other known locations, outreach workers have been connecting them with resources such as emergency hotel vouchers through the YMCA’s Late Night Program.

    • Off the top of my head, I’m guessing that Seattle’s soaring rents have put childless men on the streets. Men without dependent children are at the bottom of the food chain for housing resources. For example, in Portland, the best homeless men without children can hope for is a waiting list for a temporary shelter bed.

    • Are you thinking Seattle may be a prime destination for people who don’t have the means to get housing? That would add up, wouldn’t it?

  4. What kind of effort and resources would it take if say, the homeless population received training in repair of abandoned homes and through participation could then inhabit those homes? Has anyone thought of asking for corporate partnerships? I keep imagining that Walmart and MacDonalds could lead such an initiative, teaming up with HUD and at the state level to rehabilitate housing (apartments and single family homes). Also, the tiny house movement (See Boneyard Studios) offers a stellar solution. Units average 200 square feet (40-60K). Also, the cargo container movement, where architects use discarded cargo containers to create homes. Most of the tiny homes employ solar heating, rainwater collection and propane. Hence, recipients won’t need to grid, which will enable them to live on the lower wage jobs available to the majority in the short term anyway. Greenhouses (while not cheap) combined with usable repaired or restored housing, could be paired with each settlement, since the posh green grocers aren’t likely to set up shop close to loads of impoverished folks. Meijers and Coscos might participate in a joint venture assist with nutrition by sponsoring green houses instead of giving out food that is rotten or very close to it. City leaders need to court these big companies for partnerships, offering tax breaks to them for taking the lead in the elimination of homelessness and hunger throughout the country. After all, there is no food shortage in the United States. It’s a disribution problem. Think of how proud a mayor could be to boast the absence of homelessness in his/her city. Unlike domestic abuse and unemployment, which attempt to regulate behavior, homelessness can be eradicate with political will. I wonder, who will be the first to eliminate it. If HUD will end its focus on helping landlord and focus on helping individual clients, they could wipe homelessness out in a couple of years. Again, I’m strongly reccommending corporate partnerships, since cities these days, can barely afford to pay their current employees. We’ll never end corporate greed, but corporations do like sponsoring things that get their names out there. Lets make this happen. This is a call to Walmart, Meijers, MacDonalds, Coscos, Sams Club and all the major retailers employing minimum to low wage laborers. They all claim to be service oriented, all claim to be patriotic and responsible. Now, let’s push them to the task of helping make America truly a land where anything is possible.

    • The mayor of Seattle is too concerned about painting the sidewalks rainbow colors on Capitol Hill and spending millions upon millions of dollars on unsafe, unnecessary, ridiculous bike lanes across the city (catering to approx. only 3% of the commuting population) to care about actually doing something about the homeless people. You have some great suggestions, but the mayor (like many politicians) aren’t getting incentives when it comes to helping the homeless. His idea is to just set up stupid encampments everywhere so they have a designated area to congregate instead of implementing some programs to help them find jobs, get them the mental help they might require, and get back on their feet.

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