By Michael Knott:
The Homeless Alliance of WNY has released the results of their State of Homelessness 2011 for the federal reporting year October 1, 2010 through September 30, 2011. The data used to create this report were compiled from the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) as well as the annual Point in Time count, Housing Inventory Chart, Unsheltered Street Count, and the Erie County Department of Social Services and Veterans Administration.
Throughout the year of 2011, there were an estimated 5,050 people who experienced homelessness in Erie County and on any given night there were approximately 1,000 homeless people. These figures include people in Emergency Housing, Transitional Housing, Safe Havens, the unsheltered, and those taking part in the Code Blue Warming Center beds. Although the majority of homeless persons are single, the number of homeless families increased by 4% from 2010 to 29%.
There are multiple misconceptions about homelessness. Many people have created a stereotype of an older male pushing a shopping cart down the street however, this report shows that over 22% of the homeless population are children and teens under the age of 18. More than 38% of that homeless population is children under the age of 5. For many people, this statistic puts the issue into perspective, it is impossible to ignore the fact that there are children in our society that do not have a place to call home.
It is undeniable that the root cause of homelessness is poverty. In Buffalo, 29% of the population as well as 43% of female head of households live below the poverty level. Over half of the renters in Buffalo pay more than 30% of their income for rent. Buffalo also has the oldest housing stock in the nation, which means the homes are less energy efficient and therefore more expensive to heat during the winter months. Considering the combination of high utility bills and larger percentages of income going to rent, it is easy to see why people are becoming homeless. During this year, 40% of the clients were homeless for the first time, and many of these people were women and children.
Although the overall number of homeless in Buffalo and Erie County has remained fairly stable over the past few years, there has been a steady decrease in the number of unsheltered homeless. Each year, HUD requires an annual point in time count during the month of January of both sheltered and unsheltered homeless. During the 2010 count, there were 201 people found unsheltered, however in 2012, there were 106. This decrease could be attributed to a new permanent housing program for the chronically homeless that began in 2011. These point in time numbers are only a snapshot of the homeless population, and because of the severity of weather in January, these numbers are probably lower than at other times of the year.
One of the federal priorities is to end Chronic Homelessness within 5 years. To accomplish this, more low demand Housing First units need to be created for the 436 people identified in our analysis. Numerous studies have proven it is more cost effective to provide Permanent Supportive Housing for the Chronically Homeless than it is to literally leave them to die on the streets. We can save the taxpayer’s money and be humane at the same time. We can end long term homelessness.
Overall, homelessness is an important issue that needs more attention. We must develop the community and political will to end homelessness. To accomplish this, we need to facilitate programs that create Housing First units along with funds focused on Rapid Re-Housing. We must also focus on reducing poverty by creating more living wage jobs along with education of skills to people to fill those positions. The full Annual Report on the State of Homelessness in Erie County along with the Executive Summary can be found on the Homeless Alliance of Western New York website. While reading this report, keep in mind that these numbers represent people in our community who are facing the traumatic experience of being homeless, many of them for the first time.