Atlantic Cities: The Astonishing Decline of Homelessness in America
Despite a housing crisis, a great recession, rising income inequality, and elevated poverty, there is some good news among the most vulnerable segment of American society. America’s homeless population – an estimated 633,000 people – has declined in the last decade.
This seems incredible – perhaps literally, so. The National Alliance to End Homelessness, a leader in homelessness service and research, estimates a 17 percent decrease in total homelessness from 2005 to 2012. As a refresher: this covers a period when unemployment doubled (2007-2010) and foreclosure proceedings quadrupled (2005-2009).
It’s equally shocking that politicians haven’t trumpeted this achievement. Nor have many journalists. Yes, there’s a veritable media carnival attending every Bureau of Labor Statistics "Jobs Report" on the first Friday of the month. We track the unemployment rate obsessively. But the decline in homelessness hasn’t attracted much cheerleading.
And what about the presidents responsible for this feat? General anti-poverty measures – for example, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit -- have helped to raise post-tax income for the poorest families. But our last two presidents have made targeted efforts, as well. President George W. Bush’s "housing first" program helped reduce chronic homelessness by around 30 percent from 2005 to 2007. The "housing first" approach put emphasis on permanent housing for individuals before treatment for disability and addiction.
The Great Recession threatened to undo this progress, but the stimulus package of 2009 created a new $1.5 billion dollar program, the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program. This furthered what the National Alliance called "ground-breaking work at the federal level…to improve the homelessness system by adopting evidence-based, cost effective interventions." The program is thought to have aided 700,000 at-risk or homeless people in its first year alone, "preventing a significant increase in homelessness."
Since then, the Obama administration also quietly announced in 2010 a 10-year federal plan to end homelessness. This is all to say that the control of homelessness, in spite of countervailing forces, can be traced directly to Washington—a fact openly admitted by independent organizations like the National Alliance to End Homelessness. ...
... As quietly as homelessness has fallen, so too it will go up quietly – unless there is major intervention. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that sequestration cuts from homelessness programs are set to expel 100,000 people from a range of housing and shelter programs this year. That’s nearly one sixth of the current total homeless population. Far from gently raising the homeless rate, it would undo a full decade of progress. ...