Uptick in homelessness in state attributed to Hurricane Maria evacuees

The head of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, responding to a report released this week that found homelessness in the state increased by 17.4 percent between 2017 and 2018, said much of the increase is attributed to residents of Puerto Rico coming to Connecticut as a result of Hurricane Maria.

Richard Cho, chief executive officer of the coalition, said in a phone interview Thursday that the state set up a sheltering system in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide temporary shelter to 593 residents of Puerto Rico who relocated to Connecticut due to the hurricane, which devastated the island last year. Census data released Wednesday showed that about 130,000 people, nearly 4 percent of the population, left Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the hurricane.

Cho said if you exclude Hurricane Maria evacuees, the rate of homelessness in the state remained steady this year over last year. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's annual assessment of homelessness found that 3,976 people experienced homelessness when it did its count on a day in January this year. Most of them were in emergency shelters or transitional housing; 581 people were unsheltered. The coalition still has funding available to provide housing assistance to anyone still displaced from the storm, he said.

The fact that the rate of homelessness remained steady after years of decline is "a cause for concern," Cho said. The coalition is still seeing many people fall into "housing crises," which shows the need to increase the availability of affordable housing in the state, he said. Specifically, there is a shortage of studio and one-bedroom apartments. The coalition prioritizes those who've been homeless the longest.

The HUD report found that chronic or long-term homelessness in the state decreased by 18.8 percent since 2017. But homelessness experienced by families increased 41 percent, which can be attributed in part to the influx of Hurricane Maria evacuees.

Cho said the coalition is looking for volunteers for the 2019 homeless count and that, barring any natural disasters, he expects the rate to remain steady or even decline.

j.bergman@theday.com

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