The results of a 2015 count of homeless people across the United States revealed major strides in decreasing homelessness in America -- but also some persistent challenges facing certain vulnerable populations. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Thursday released and discussed the new data on homelessness in America based on January 2015 point-in-time counts of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people.
Between January 2010 and January 2015, the data revealed, overall homelessness across the U.S. decreased by 11 percent, according to HUD Secretary Julián Castro. During the same time period, Castro said, the U.S. saw a 22 percent decrease in chronic homelessness and a 19 percent reduction in homelessness among families. For veterans -- the first population targeted in President Obama's "Opening Doors" initiative to end homelessness -- homelessness fell 36 percent between 2010 and 2015, Castro said.
In Philadelphia, the number of people found in the nationwide point-in-time count decreased slightly from 2010, when there were 6,084 total homeless people reported, to this year, when there were 5,998. From last year to this year, however, the number of homeless people found in Philadelphia's point-in-time count increased from 5,738 to 5,998 -- about 5 percent.
A deeper dive into the national data reveals a number of challenges the nation is still facing, particularly when it comes to certain vulnerable populations of homeless people.
Youth homelessness in particular emerged as an issue that has dogged government and social-service agencies trying to count and connect kids and young adults with housing and services. NBC10's digital team recently explored the issue of youth homelessness locally in a special report, the Faces of Homeless Youth, and found that at least several hundred -- and most likely more -- kids and young adults are homeless on Philadelphia's streets at any given time.
HUD officials said they are working to improve strategies for counting homeless youth, who are a notoriously invisible population. They cautioned against drawing any conclusions from comparing year-to-year data on youth homelessness at this point, saying they're still working to find the best way to accurately count homeless kids and young adults in America. Some strategies they're exploring, officials said, include better using social media, as well as partners and stakeholders who have direct relationships with homeless youth, to count them.
One of the goals of "Opening Doors" is ending youth homelessness in America by 2020. The HUD report on homelessness released Thursday said that January 2015 point-in-time counts located 180,760 homeless youth under age 25, including 127,787 homeless youth under 18 and 52,973. Among homeless youth, according to HUD data, 78 percent were part of a homeless family with children, and most unaccompanied homeless youth -- 87 percent -- were between the ages of 18 and 24.
There were 9,901 parenting youth found homeless on a single night in January 2015, 99 percent of whom were between the ages of 18 and 24, according to HUD.
Although the HUD point-in-time counts for homeless youth and young adults were lower in 2015 than 2014, HUD officials cautioned against comparing year-to-year data. One national youth-advocacy organization echoed HUD's recognition that the current counting methods for homeless youth are unreliable.
According to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth and the First Focus Campaign for Children, HUD's count "measures capacity, not need."
"Shelters are often full, and many communities do not have shelters, or have shelters that are inappropriate for the needs of families or youth. Unaccompanied youth may avoid shelters because of safety concerns."
The organizations, in a statement on Thursday, said that a U.S. Department of Education survey revealed that more than 1.3 million children and youth had been homeless at some point in the 2013-2014 school year, marking an increase of 3.4 percent from the prior academic year.
Where HUD showed the biggest gains have been made are the push to end homelessness among veterans. Castro said that some cities and towns in the U.S., including Houston, have completely eradicated veterans' homelessness.
In Philadelphia, HUD 2015 statistics show there are 10 unsheltered homeless veterans remaining, per the January count. That number is half of the 20 veterans who were homeless and unsheltered last year and a fraction of the 71 who were unsheltered in 2013.
Officials said they're "confident" that veterans' homelessness in the U.S. will be eliminated not long after the the end of this year -- the goal set in Opening Doors for ending veterans' homelessness.
Chronically homeless people and homeless youth and families, though -- Opening Doors' other targeted populations -- are further from having their homelessness eliminated.
Matthew Doherty, the executive director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, said despite the progress made in reducing chronic homelessness between 2010 and 2015, there was only a 1 percent drop from 2014 to 2015 in chronic homelessness.
That very small gain "needs to be seen as a call to action," Doherty said Thursday during a national media conference call organized by HUD. He said in increase in funding to connect the most vulnerable homeless populations with permanent supportive housing -- a model that officials say has proven to be most successful at combating homelessness -- is paramount.
The HUD data release comes on the same day that Covenant House, an international organization serving homeless youth ages 18 to 21, is holding its annual Executive Sleep Out to end youth homelessness. Read more about Covenant House Pennsylvania's Sleep Out here.