Homelessness in America: HUD Reveals Strides, Setbacks with 2015 Homeless Count Data

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.

Some homeless people in Kensington build makeshift shacks in a trench along train tracks for shelter.
The NBC10 Digital Team spent more than two months meeting young people throughout Philadelphia who live on the streets and in the city’s only crisis shelter serving only them. It’s a silent epidemic. NBC10’s Vince Lattanzio shares some of their stories.
NBC10/Vince Lattanzio
St. Francis Inn in Kensington serves meals daily to the homeless.

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.

Covenant House Pennsylvania's crisis shelter located along Armat Street in Philadelphia's Germantown neighborhood.

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.

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