BANGOR, Maine — The nation as a whole is making strides toward reducing homelessness but the problem is worsening in Maine, according to statistics released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
HUD’s 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress estimates there were 610,042 homeless Americans in January, down from 633,782 in 2012’s estimate — a nearly 4 percent decline. The number has dropped 9 percent since 2007, when there were an estimated 671,888 homeless, according to HUD.
“We’re making real and significant progress to reduce homelessness in this country and now is not the time to retreat from doing what we know works,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan during a conference call with media members. What works, according to HUD and other organizations dealing with homelessness, is rapid rehousing through programs that enable individuals to get back into a place of their own by helping with a down payment or covering the first few months’ rent.
In Maine, HUD’s data is less encouraging. Maine’s 2013 homeless count of 3,016 was 623 more than in 2012 — a 26 percent spike. Since 2007, the state’s homeless count has increased 14 percent. However, Maine also had the nation’s lowest rate of chronic homelessness in 2013. Six percent of the state’s homeless were chronically homeless, according to HUD. A chronically homeless person is someone who has been continuously homeless for at least one year or has had four or more “episodes” of homelessness in the past three years, according to HUD. The national chronically homeless rate was 17 percent.
For those states that saw significant increases in the number of homeless individuals or little progress in stemming homelessness, an increase in the number of homeless families is often a contributing factor, according to Donovan.
Donovan cited progress made on reducing the number of homeless veterans and chronically homeless individuals across the nation. HUD reports a 24 percent drop in homelessness among veterans and a 16 percent reduction among individuals experiencing long-term homelessness since 2010.
In Maine, there were 164 homeless veterans and 159 chronically homeless individuals in 2013, according to HUD. Three years ago, those numbers were 101 and 226, respectively.
Most of Maine’s increase came from a hike in the number of homeless individuals, though there was a small increase in homeless families as well, according to HUD data.
“We are on the right track in the fight to end homelessness among veterans. While this trend is encouraging news, we know that there is more work to do,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.
In Maine, a bill proposed by Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, to facilitate the use of vacant state buildings for homeless veteran housing received unanimous approval from the 10-member Legislative Council on Wednesday. In a news release, Wilson called the idea “a no-brainer; a win-win for Maine taxpayers and veterans.”
That bill will be referred to committee during the legislative session that starts in January.
Nearly one-quarter of all homeless people in the U.S. in 2013 were younger than 18, according to HUD, and another 10 percent were between 18 and 24 years old.
The trend of falling rates of homelessness existed before 2010, dropping 3.3 percent in the three years after 2007. President George W. Bush’s “housing first” program, which emphasized finding permanent housing for individuals before treating them for disability or addiction, was credited with reducing rates of chronic homelessness by as much as 30 percent from 2005 to 2007. When the recession hit, some of that progress was undone.
To keep these trends going, Donovan said Congress should continue to fund housing programs that have been proven to work. Donovan said the combination of flat funding from Congress and federal sequestration will mean a 5 percent cut in programs that have helped the federal government drive down rates of homelessness, and the administration is worried about further reductions.
“If Congress does not fully fund these efforts, we will not end homelessness as the president had planned,” Donovan said. “There is no good reason our fellow Americans should be left out in the cold when we know ways to improve their lives.”
To see the full HUD report, visit www.onecpd.info/resources/documents/AHAR-2013-Part1.pdf.
To see the breakdown for Maine, visit www.onecpd.info/reports/CoC_PopSub_State_ME_2013.pdf.