At Commonwealth Land Trust, we believe that everyone has the right to safe, decent affordable housing. Commonwealth Land Trust works to end homelessness through our supportive housing programs serving formerly homeless, disabled, and very low-income individuals, as well as through our family housing reserved for formerly homeless and low- to moderate-income families.
According to a report by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there were 407,966 homeless individuals in the United States on a given night in 2010. HUD estimates that 1,593,150 individuals experienced homelessness over the course of 2010.[i] Homelessness is a massive social problem that extends far beyond our housing and supportive services. It weakens communities and damages lives. CLT recognizes that effective solutions to ending homelessness involve increasing the availability of supportive and affordable housing.
WHAT IS HOMELESSNESS?
The federal government defines a homeless person as “someone who is living on the street or in an emergency shelter, or who would be living on the street or in an emergency shelter without [government] homelessness assistance.”[ii]
An individual is considered homeless if he/she is residing in one of the following settings: (1) a place not meant for human habitation, such as cars, parks, abandoned buildings, or the street, (2) an emergency shelter, or (3) transitional or supportive housing for homeless persons. One can also be considered homeless in situations pertaining to domestic violence, an impending eviction, a condemned building, and through the process of exiting an institution (hospital, treatment facility, jail) when one lacks the resources to secure housing.[iii]
There are three types of homelessness: transitional, episodic, and chronic.
- Accounting for 80% of the emergency shelter population, the transitional homeless have often experienced a life-altering event like a job loss, medical condition, domestic violence situation, or divorce. They spend a short period of time in the emergency shelter system before securing permanent housing. Most either never return to the shelter system or do so after a prolonged period of time.
- Accounting for 10% of the shelter population, episodic homelessness individuals have been homeless for less than one year and have experienced fewer than four episodes in the past three years.
- Accounting for 10% of the shelter population, chronically homeless individuals have been homeless for a year or more or have had four episodes in the past three years. In order to be considered chronically homeless, individuals must also have a disability.[iv]
CAUSES OF HOMELESSNESS
The single greatest cause of homelessness is poverty. Individuals and families in the lowest educational and income groups are four times more likely to experience homelessness than those in the highest education and income groups. In addition, those struggling with severe mental illness are four times more likely to become homeless than those without a history of mental health challenges.[v] Other conditions that can lead to homelessness include physical disabilities, addictions, prior incarceration, domestic violence, relationship changes (divorce), unemployment, and poor economic conditions.
NATIONAL HOMELESSNESS STATISTICS
Although homelessness is inherently difficult to quantify, academic and government researchers have developed methods to collect and analyze homelessness statistics.
A 2010 study published in the journal Health & Place produced the following estimates:
- 1 in 20 adults or 4.7% of the adult US population are estimated to have experienced homelessness at some point since the age of eighteen
- The median duration of homelessness is three months and the average is 9.4 months[vi]
The Department of Housing and Urban Development submitted a report to Congress in 2010 stating:
- On a given night in January 2010, 407,966 individuals were homeless (not families)
- 109,812 individuals were chronically homeless
- The gender breakdown among sheltered homeless people:
- 62% male
- 38% female
- The age breakdown among sheltered homeless people:
- 21.8% were under age 18
- 23.5% were ages 18-30
- 37% were ages 31 to 50
- 14.9% were ages 51 to 61
- 2.8% were ages 62 or older
- The racial breakdown among sheltered homeless people:
- 41.6% were white, non-Hispanic
- 9.7% were white, Hispanic
- 37% were black/African American
- 4.5% were other single races
- 7.2% were multiple races
- 26% of all sheltered homeless individuals had a severe mental illness
- 34.7% of all sheltered homeless individuals had chronic addictions issues[vii]
BOSTON HOMELESSNESS STATISTICS
The number of homeless individuals in Boston has been relatively constant for the past sixteen years with 3,700-4,000 individuals experiencing homelessness on a given night in January. Although only 15% of Boston’s homeless population is chronically homeless, 50% of shelter resources are expended on this group. As the shelter system was not designed to house people for long periods of time, chronically homeless individuals impose a heavy burden on Boston communities.[ix] Indeed, many chronically homeless individuals use emergency rooms as their primary means of medical care, costing tax payers thousands of dollars each day.
The rate of family homelessness in Boston remained relatively unchanged from 1994 until 2005 when it began to show significant increases. This trend continued through 2008 when homeless families outnumbered homeless individuals for the first time. A record 3,870 people, largely single-parent female-headed households and their children, were homeless. In 2009, there were 2,380 homeless children in Boston, a figure that has doubled since 2005. Economic problems have fueled this trend, including rising unemployment, a loss of 19,000 jobs since 2008, and 4,000 foreclosures since 2007.[x] These statistics underscore the need for more affordable housing in Boston, which would enable low-income families to remain in housing during adverse economic conditions.
EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS TO ENDING HOMELESSNESS
At Commonwealth Land Trust, we work to end chronic homelessness through our supportive housing programs. We believe that our holistic on-site approach to supportive housing and case management is an effective model for ending chronic homelessness nationwide. Indeed, studies have shown that provided with sufficient supports, most homeless adults—including those with severe mental health challenges—are able to remain in permanent housing..[xi]
CLT’s family housing in Lower Roxbury and Chelsea is an important affordable housing resource, providing formerly homeless and low- to moderate-income families with a permanent home and stability. Rising housing costs and a lack of affordable housing in large metropolitan areas like Boston put low-income families at risk of homelessness.[xii] Increasing the amount of affordable housing in Boston would strengthen our communities.
[i] “Current Statistics on the Prevalence and Characteristics of People Experiencing Homelessness in the United States,” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, accessed May 16, 2013, http://homeless.samhsa.gov/ResourceFiles/hrc_factsheet.pdf.
[ii] “Emergency Shelter Grants Program Desk Guide,” Department of Housing and Urban Development, accessed May 16, 2013, http://www.hudhre.info/index.cfm?do=viewEsgDeskguideSec4.
[iii]”Emergency Shelter Grants Program Desk Guide.”
[iv] “Current Statistics on the Prevalence and Characteristics of People Experiencing Homelessness in the United States,” 5.
[v] Christopher G. Hudson and Yvonne M. Vissing, “The Geography of Adult Homelessness in the US: Validation of State and County Estimates,” Health & Place 16 (2010): 832.
[vi] Huson and Vissing,”The Geography of Adult Homelessness in the US: Validation of State and County Estimates,” 830-831.
[vii] “Current Statistics on the Prevalence and Characteristics of People Experiencing Homelessness in the United States,” 1-4.
[ix] “Beyond Shelter: Boston’s Strategy to Reduce Homelessness,” City of Boston- Mayor Menino, accessed May 16 2013, http://www.cityofboston.gov/Images_Documents/Beyond%20Shelter%20-%20Boston’s%20Strategy%20to%20Reduce%20Homelessness%20June%202010_tcm3-17659.pdf.
[x] “Beyond Shelter: Boston’s Strategy to Reduce Homelessness.”
[xi] Huson and Vissing,”The Geography of Adult Homelessness in the US: Validation of State and County Estimates,” 836.
[xii] Angela R. Fertig and David A. Reingold, “Homelessness Among At-Risk Families with Children in Twenty American Cities,” Social Service Review 82 (2008): 9.