State homeless count to take place later this month
New London — Officials in the state’s fight against homelessness would like to think the homeless population will continue to drop this year as it did last year.
But the numbers are hard to predict despite signs that a “housing first” philosophy is working. The state’s homeless population fell to an estimated 3,033 individuals last year, the lowest number since the state began its annual Point-In-Time Count, a snapshot of a community's homeless population.
Volunteers will fan out for this year’s count on Jan. 21 and no matter the final tally, there is always more that can be done, especially in the face of dwindling resources, said Richard Cho, the CEO and executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.
While 3,000 people may be homeless on any given day, Cho is quick to point out that the number of people who experience homelessness in the state each year is probably closer to 8,000 or 9,000.
“These are individuals falling in and out of homelessness,” Cho said. “It’s not a static population. The vast majority of people experience an episode of homelessness in months, three months or less.
It’s the reason the recent focus of resources has been aimed at giving quick assistance to a segment of the homeless pollution that needs a boost to get back on their feet, to get a job or find an apartment.
“It used to be we’d provide them with shelter or transitional housing or treatment. The idea was we could fix people and they can be self-sufficient,” Cho said. “That proved to be wrong. What we found is with varying levels of financial assistance, counseling or case management, you could get people into housing… back into the workforce or in a situation where they can maintain an apartment.”
The New London Homeless Hospitality Center has been focusing on rapid rehousing with signs of success, said Rev. Catherine Zall, the center’s executive director. Volunteers from the 40-bed shelter have been providing targeted temporary financial assistance and services to individuals and families.
The shelter built an addition last year, a help center that connects resources and volunteer staff to homeless individuals seeking jobs and housing. The number of homeless in New London County fell from an estimated 271 in 2018 to 236 in 2019. Zall said upwards of 500 different individuals pass through the doors of the shelter in any given year.
Zall said the shelter is able to provide what many take for granted — a new pair of shoes, first-months’ rent and security deposit, access to a computer to complete a job application or a bus pass for a job interview.
“Some of this is very good news story on how a system can change and be more effective,” Zall said of the drop in homelessness. “The vast majority of people coming in might not have income but are able to get jobs and eventually able to get income. The vast majority of people don't end up in a tent or outside. They're unstably housed and maybe moving from house to house."
While services include permanant supportive housing and vouchers for people with disabilities, Zall said the vast majority of people who leave homelessness move into market rate housing.
New London Homeless Hospitality Center owns and maintains several multifamily homes in New London, including one dedicated to veterans.
Zall said the continued development of the state’s 2-1-1 system has led to faster response to homelessness. People calling to report they are homeless can get an appointment the next day in some cases and be able to sit down with someone who understands available resources.
2-1-1 is a program of United Way of Connecticut and supported by the state — a one-stop connection to the local services.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released its 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress this week, a document based on the Point-In-Time Count.
Some of the key findings:
• Nationally, 567,715 persons experienced homelessness on a single night in 2019, an increase of 14,885 people since 2018. Meanwhile, homelessness among veterans and families with children continued to fall, declining 2.1 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively, in 2019.
• While homelessness in most states declined between 2018 and 2019, homelessness in California increased by 16 percent, or 21,306 people. The large increase in California is reflected in a nationwide increase of 3 percent, or 14,885 people experiencing homelessness, between 2018 and 2019.
Last year's PIT Count in Connecticut found 3,033 people in the state, including 577 children. The youth count included 337 unaccompanied homeless youth and 674 with unstable housing. A full report for both counts is available at cceh.org/pit/data-and-reports.
Volunteers can register at www.uwsect.org/pit.
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