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On Thursday afternoon Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan and senior HUD staff conducted a media conference call to discuss HUD’s latest Annual Homeless Assessment Report (the actual report [pdf]). Secretary Donovan also announced funding under the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) to help state and local communities prevent homelessness and then took questions from the media:

….Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan:  Thank you all.  As the recently elected chair of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness I’m pleased to have the opportunity today to discuss the findings of HUD’s annual homelessness report. And unveil our new effort to provide real time data on our homeless population. I’m also announcing that communities across the country can now begin to spend their homeless prevention and rapid rehousing program grant funds, uh, that are funded through the President, through President Obama’s recovery act. We all know that one of the most tragic consequences of our housing and economic crises is those who fall into homelessness as a result, whether through foreclosures, evictions, layoffs, or other financial problems. I come, I come to HUD as a big believer in evidence and performance based solutions. And frankly, they have never been more needed than right now. And as we at HUD continue to implement the President’s making home affordable plan and the recovery act it is my hope that the measures and tools we are announcing today will help us respond effectively and immediately to this ongoing crises.

First, I wanted to say a few words about HUD’s two thousand eight annual homeless assessment report to Congress which we will send to the hill today. It finds that on a single night in January two thousand eight six hundred and sixty-four thousand individuals were homeless. And throughout the course of a year approximately one point six million found themselves without a place to call home and sought shelter. These figures have held steady from two thousand seven to two thousand eight. However, our report does find a troubling increase in the number of homeless families, nine percent. And we found the increase tends to come not from cities, but from suburban and rural areas. This not only confirms what a lot of us had been predicting, it also indicates that as early as the end of two thousand seven the housing and economic crises was already beginning to take, uh, a toll. This data does not reflect the great many more families who are living on the edge, doubling up with friends and family members, and struggling to stay out of shelters and off the streets. And while it tells us a great deal about the nature and scope of homelessness during two thousand eight, the data does but beg many other questions about what’s happening right now. How is the housing crises playing out in our shelters and on our streets? Who is homeless today? And are more families on the street today than a few months ago? In which areas and regions is homelessness on the rise? And where is it holding steady? It is these questions and limitations to our current data that we are trying to answer through our new quarterly homeless pulse report that tracks real time changes in homelessness in nine geographically diverse areas of the country. This pulse data which we intend to expand in scope in the coming months brings the current picture of homelessness in America in to sharper focus. Helping us better gauge the impact of both the economic crises and our programs are having on homelessness across the country. As I said earlier we’re at a critical moment, and the need for real time data could not be greater. And with this data and the greater insight that it offers in to who is homeless and where, we will work with our local partners on the ground to insure that the necessary resources are in place to help individuals and families get off the street and prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place.

That’s where the homeless prevention and rapid rehousing program comes in to play. That program received one point five billion dollars through the recovery act and will keep households from falling in to homelessness and assist those that do. I’m proud to announce that later today we will release one point two billion dollars to communities across the country so they can now start spending. This program is drastically shifting HUD’s focus to homeless prevention by providing temporary financial assistance and services to help struggling Americans gain housing stability, such as paying for utilities to help a family remain housed or helping them move in to and stay in their new housing. As such this program serves as a bridge to long term stability for those who without this assistance would be homeless. Lastly, let me say that I believe this new program has the power to transform the way our local partners think about homelessness and structure their response.

At the same time we shift our focus more toward prevention, we’re also intent on doing it through local innovations, encouraging localities to conceive of new ways of using their resources to decrease the flow of people seeking shelter, quickly moving individuals and families into other housing, and protect those at risk of becoming homeless. Obviously these are only a few components of a broader strategy, whether it’s building safe and affordable shelter, fighting substance abuse, providing treatment for mental health disorders, or building the kind of economy that values work and good paying jobs. Our success in the fight to end homelessness ought to be how we measure our progress as a society and as a people, as Americans. The President has made clear we can and must do better. And with these funds and our new real time pulse data and by working closely with our partners on the ground, I believe we will. With that I’d be happy to take any questions you may have….

From the HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report [2008] [pdf]

….Question: What is, uh, today a typical homeless person if you can call a typical homeless person? And how has that typical person changed in the last few years?

Secretary Donovan:  So, I, I think what this study we’re releasing today tells us is that that typical homeless person, although, uh, I think it’s very important that we not overly generalize, but that, that typically, that has changed to become less focused on chronically homeless or single individual, uh, homeless to, uh, somebody who is part of a family. Whether it be a mother or a father or a child in a homeless family we saw a nine percent increase, uh, in home, in, in the number of homeless individuals that are part of families. That all, that typical homeless person is also more likely to live in a suburb or a rural area. Uh, and in fact, if you combine those different changes, we saw over a fifty percent increase in homeless families in suburban and rural areas in this count. So, I think what that tells us is that the economic crisis is forcing more families who had previously, uh, been well housed into homelessness. On the other hand what that says, I believe, is that even despite the crises, uh, the economic crisis, the housing crisis, we did not see an increase in individual homelessness. And in fact, in some categories, particularly in youth, we saw a decrease in these numbers. And I think that’s, uh, demonstrates that where we’ve focused our efforts on chronic homelessness in, uh, in the years leading up to this study, they’ve been effect
ive. And that they’ve avoided what would have been most likely a significant increase in homeless individuals as well. So I think it’s both, uh, the concerns about what’s happening in the broader economic crisis, but also, uh, the positive benefits of our concerted efforts around, uh, lowering homelessness among singles and chronically homeless….

….Question: …I was wondering if you might have any, any information on two thousand nine is going so far, um, and anything you might be able to tell us about [garbled] we’re talking about the data from two thousand eight, unless I’m misunderstanding something.

Secretary Donovan: …You know, in fact the, the regular study that we’ve done is an annual study and we’re releasing that, that, that does not have two thousand nine data. What we do have though, and this is what we’re particularly excited about in terms of, uh, the first time we’ve ever been able, able to share, uh, the data from our new pulse study which is more real time, and this is first quarter data, from two thousand nine. And what we’ve seen is a slight decrease, uh, in the overall numbers for the nine areas that we’re, we’ve focused on.  Uh, that’s a regional sampling and so that is much more current data, uh, two thousand nine data and does show an increase in families as well, but, uh, an overall slight decline in, in numbers for the first quarter….

….Question: …Concerning the collection of real time data, um, I  wondered, uh, is the, uh, the changes in the homeless population, uh, due to the, uh, the economic crisis make it more difficult to, uh, um, to track, uh, homeless individuals? Maybe they’re shacking up with other family members, things like that…

[voices: Didn’t hear the question.]

….You, you had mentioned the collection of, of real time data concerning the homeless population, and I wondered, uh, uh, do the changes in the homeless population because of the economic crisis make it more difficult to obtain that, that real time data or to, uh, um, to make, uh, estimates of the homeless population?

Senior HUD official: The pulse report is based on nine communities, large cities as well as regional areas such as the, the rural areas encompassing all of Kentucky because they have very good data collection procedures through something called Homeless Management Information System or HMIS. That’s real time data they collect every day from emergency shelters and transitional housing. And so whether or not the number of persons is increasing or decreasing those systems are readily available to pick up that information.

….Question: …I was wondering how, uh, stimulus funds for homeless programs might impact the number of people who are already homeless? If I understand correctly, uh, some of the funding is trying to prevent homelessness. How will the numbers of the people who are already homeless, uh, potentially be impacted? Your thoughts?

Senior HUD official: The homelessness prevention and rapid rehousing program is actually a program designed with two different components. It, the prevention side which you mentioned, and about fifty-two percent of the money that we’ve seen communities apply for under this program is going to prevention, but, much of the balance of the money is going to rapid rehousing programs which are designed to rapidly rehouse folks who are already in shelter or are on the street. So what we intend is that the length of stay in homelessness will actually be decreased so that we can serve more people who fall in to homelessness as a result of local situations.

Secretary Donovan: In, in addition to that what I’d also say, you know, the, the press call is focused today on the, uh, prevention and rapid rehousing program as well as the homeless data. We also have a series of other programs that were part of the recovery act, uh, a total of about fourteen billion dollars, uh, almost fourteen billion dollars under HUD’s programs. And those, for example, go to support, uh, the rehabilitation of public housing, uh, including some vacant public housing units. They go to support, over two billion dollars is going to support the construction of stalled affordable housing, uh, development or rehabilitation through the low income housing tax credit program. So there’s a whole series of other, uh, housing efforts in the recovery bill that will help to increase the stock and improve the stock of affordable housing overall. And therefore, will provide more opportunities for families that are facing homelessness or individuals facing homelessness, uh, to be able to find decent safe housing….

….Question: …Can someone speak about the point in time homeless counts that the continuum of care is used, the level of accuracy, and the effect they have on funding for communities?

Senior HUD official: HUD requires as part of a national competition for homeless assistance that communities conduct a point in time count at least every other year at the end of January. So we have a national sense as to the extent and nature of homelessness. Virtually every community chooses not just to do it annual, every other year, but every year. A growing percentage have been doing it every single year because they see the value in really understanding the changing needs of homeless people and how many homeless persons they have. So we do look at that as one of the scoring elements when we select projects for funding in terms of are they doing a count, are they using a sound methodology. And the methodologies have improved greatly over time in part because HUD has funded through technical assistance a lot a great technical assistance guidance on how to really do a good count. And some of, and it varies from a larger city where you’ve got, uh, many, many blocks to cover versus a very small town. And so we’ve got a couple of different approaches that they can use. But the primary selection factors that we use for selection are actually performance of projects….

….Question: …Secretary Donovan, um, as you indicated the prior administration was very much focused on the chronically homeless. Um, giving what the data may be telling you now regarding families who are homeless, do you see a need to shift spending or to alter spending in any way to address more of the needs of homeless familes?

Secretary Donovan: Well, first of all I would say that it’s very important that we continue the commitment to attack chronic homelessness. And, uh, we will continue to do that, uh, under my leadership and, uh, of the interagency council and of the President’s leadership. Uh, but I do think we also need to advance, uh, strategies around homeless families and to increase funding, uh, for homeless families. And that’s why this recovery act funding that we’re discussing today is, is absolutely critical. It’s both a scale and, uh, a novelty, uh, an innovation in the way that we serve, uh, the homeless and particularly homeless families, that I think can become a model for, uh, our work going forward. So this, uh, homeless prevention and rapid rehousing really is a, a critical next step [garbled] the broader efforts to, uh, meet the needs of homeless families and to prevent it overall. One of the other, uh, the last thing I would say is this is, your question implied, even though you didn’t say it directly, a sort of limited pie, uh, uh, a limited pot of money that, uh, needs to be divided in some way. I think one of the critical things that we’ve learned about, uh, our efforts around the chronically homeless and that we believe this prevention money can also achieve is that by investing wisely in these programs we actually save money, uh, in many other ways. And so I don’t think it’s a zero sum game. I think we can continue to invest in, uh, our efforts around the chronically homeless while expanding our efforts on the family side and in fact save money. And, and the reason I say that, if we can reach a family with, uh, a relatively small investment of a security deposit, a first month’s rent, uh, other things that
are met by this prevention money, we can potentially save significant amounts of money, uh, around the shelter system, uh, and other kinds of institutional care just as we’ve shown on the chronically homeless side that investments in support of housing actually save significant funding, uh, in, not only, uh, jail and shelter costs, but also emergency care costs and Medicaid savings through HHS’s budget. So, I think in a very important that we understand as we’ve begun to do on the chronic side what the impacts of these programs are on savings in other areas of the federal budget….

….Question: You must be, I don’t know, are, are you amazed, stunned, or surprised in any way that there really hit, that your homeless pop, the homeless population nationally, uh, is, uh, has not gone up given that, uh, the increase in unemployment? Does it suggest that people actually, most people take care of themselves? And, uh, secondly, where is the areas that you’re seeing the greatest increases? Is it California, New York, uh, the, the south, uh, where is that coming from?

Secretary Donovan: Yeah, I’ll let, I’ll let, um, one of the team here who works, uh, more directly on the programs talk a little bit more about the regional detail. But to your bigger point, uh, what I would say is, first of all, that it is early, that this data, given the timing of that, does not reflect the, the full brunt of the economic crisis and housing crisis that we’re, we’ve been through.  And so, I, I think it’s too early based on this data to, you know, say conclusively what the effects have been. However I, what I would say, is that the direction of the data that we see, an increase in families, uh, an in, a nine percent in families, uh, an increase in suburban and rural homelessness, I think is very consistent with what we would expect to see in, uh, an economic crisis like this. What I think it also shows us though is the fact that individual homelessness did not rise and that in fact some parts of the population declined, I think is also a measure of the success that we’ve had with the efforts, uh, in, in fighting chronic and individual homelessness. And so, uh, I take, not just comfort but, I think it’s, it’s a very good sign of progress that we haven’t seen it, uh, the same kind of increase among that population as we did among families, uh, and, and rural and suburban homeless, uh, during that same period….

….Senior HUD official: Just a couple of observations in terms of where homelessness seems to be more pronounced around the country. The highest concentrations, and the report spends a fair amount of time looking at this issue, finds that the highest concentrations of homeless persons are in Oregon, Nevada, Hawaii, and California. We find that about twenty percent of all homeless persons live in just three cities, that is New York City, Los Angeles, and Detroit. And that half of the homeless persons live in just five states, California, New York, Florida, Texas and Michigan. And that’s in large part because homelessness, despite the fact that we’re seeing a recent increase in suburban and rural areas, homelessness is largely a, an urban issue. And the fact that a significant majority of all homeless persons are there, and so that shouldn’t be therefore surprising places like California and New York have a high concentration.

Secretary Donovan: And, and just to, uh, detail that, uh, that last statement, what we’ve seen is the family increase, it’s gone from, uh, just under a quarter, uh, I, I’m sorry, uh, just under a quarter to just under a third of all homeless individuals. So, uh, while it is a substantial increase, uh, over that period of time, it remains…a minority of the overall population. And that individuals as well as the, uh, urban, uh, do continue to be the, the great majority.

Senior HUD official: And just one other point I’d like to add, uh, sixty-eight percent of all sheltered persons live in large cities, based on this report. And yet only twenty-four percent of the U.S, population represents these principle cities, so it really is largely an urban issue, although we certainly have seen some increase in rural and suburban areas.

Secretary Donovan: The in, just specifically, the increase in rural and suburban areas was twenty-three percent up to thirty-two percent, uh, over the year….

….Question: …Secretary Donovan, you mentioned earlier that HUD’s mission as far as homelessness has changed. I was hoping that you could talk about that.

Secretary Donovan:  Uh, I, I think the, the word I would use is that it is, that mission is evolving, because I want to be very clear that we continue, uh, to focus on the chronic and individual homelessness that that has been such a focus, uh, in, in earlier years, but that given both the advances that we’ve made, the positive, uh, impacts that we’ve had on homelessness over the last few years, as well as the evolving economic crisis, we believe, uh, that we need to expand our efforts, uh, and broaden our focus to include a, a larger focus on families. We also have an opportunity to, given the success that we’ve had in support of housing, uh, and I’ve seen this very personally, uh, in New York, I led the housing efforts in New York for five years where we had a very aggressive plan to build, uh, supportive housing, uh, to serve a number of populations. I think that we can take the success that we’ve had on the chronic homeless side and expand it, uh, those lessons to, to better serve families. We can also use that to better serve a series of populations, uh, that, uh, we believe very strongly, the President believes, uh, we need to solve homelessness among. And for example, veterans, uh, the numbers here show that twelve percent, uh, of all, uh, sheltered homeless adults are veterans. That’s simply an unacceptable number. And so I’ve begun working with General, uh, Shinseki, uh, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, uh, to attack that problem. We recently made an announcement, uh, about seventy-five million dollars in funding for vouchers that are specifically targeted to veterans. I think we have an opportunity to make similar kinds of progress with other populations. Uh, my experience in New York was that when you look at youth that are aging out of foster care close to a third of them would end up after they aged out in the homeless system within a few years. And so by targeting supportive housing, for example, at youth aging out of foster care we were able to, uh, help them join the mainstream of society much more effectively and save money and other, uh, costs that might emerge for those, uh, young people who were aging out of foster care down the road. So, uh, for me that change is really about expanding our focus, taking the lessons that we’ve learned, our successes on the chronic side, and being able to better serve families, veterans, and other populations….

The HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report [2008] [pdf] has Missouri tied for 27th in the estimated percentage of homeless as compared to the state’s population (page 12). Oregon is ranked highest, Kansas is ranked lowest. California has the highest estimated number of homeless at 157,277.

Exhibit 2-5: Estimates of Homeless Persons as a Percent of State’s Total Population, 2008

27. Missouri 0.13% 7,687

Missouri had a significant increase in homeless population from 2007 to 2008 (page 13):

…The states that experienced the largest reductions in their homeless populations between 2007 and 2008 were West Virginia and Idaho (-16 percent), Arkansas and Arizona (-15 percent), and Tennessee and Virginia (-13 percent). Conversely, several states-especially states that are predominantly rural-witnessed large increases in their homeless populations, such as Mississippi (42 percent), Wyoming (40 percent), Montana and Missouri (23 percent), and Iowa (22 percent). Some of these states had relatively small numbers of hom
eless persons and thus slight changes in these numbers could result in large percentage changes. (The appendices in the report provide further details by state.) Nonetheless, an increase in homelessness among rural communities is also evident in the HMIS-based estimates…

[emphasis added]