City, News

Boston’s homeless mostly in shelters, latest report finds

Although Massachusetts experienced a slight increase in homelessness from 2011, Boston has the second-highest proportion of sheltered homeless people in 2012, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports.

The Commonwealth experienced an increase in homelessness from 2.6 percent of the population in 2011 to 2.8 percent in 2012, according to the 2011 and 2012 reports.

But in Boston, 96.8 percent of homeless people are reported as sheltered, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 2012 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report released Monday.

Since 2011, national homelessness has decreased by about 0.4 percent, and there have been more pronounced declines in the number of chronic homeless people and homeless veterans, U.S. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said in a joint press call Monday.

The AHAR reported decreases in veteran homelessness by 7.2 percent and chronic homelessness by 6.8 percent, while the number of homeless families saw a slight increase of 1.4 percent, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“In a time when families who rent are paying a higher share of their income for housing and the house of rental housing is rising relative to income, it’s a hopeful sign that there’s a slight decline in the overall level of homelessness and more substantial reductions in veteran and chronic homelessness,” Donovan said.

HUD’s annual “point-in-time” report calls upon volunteers at the local level in more than 3,000 cities and counties around the world to count America’s homeless population on a given night, according to the press release.

In late January, local organizations known as “Continuums of Care” conducted counts of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people.

Donovan said the department must work harder to meet the goals of the Obama Administration’s Opening Doors program, which sets a timetable to end chronic, veteran and family homelessness within the next eight years.

“As today’s numbers reveal, we must redouble our efforts to meet the plan’s goals of ending chronic and veterans’ homelessness by 2015 and family homelessness by 2020,” Donovan said.

The press release largely attributes this year’s decreases in homelessness to the part of the Opening Doors program known as “Housing First.” Two efforts in particular, the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing project and the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program, contributed to the overall decline.

During the joint press call, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki announced that the department would be investing an unprecedented amount of $300 million in the Supportive Services for Veterans and Families Program, which began in 2009.

“In the year since we’ve initiated SSVF, we’ve learned that these grants are one of our most effective tools — quick, agile, precise, timely and decisive in stopping downward slides for veterans and families — which is why we’re tripling our investments into SSVF,” Shinseki said.

Shinseki said progress has been made toward ending veteran homelessness under the Obama Administration, but there is more to accomplish.

“This downward trend keeps us on track to end veterans’ homelessness in 2015,” he said. “To deliver that goal, we must continue simultaneously rescuing veterans that are already on the streets today and preventing those who are at risk from slipping into that downward spiral that often leads to homelessness.”

Donovan also said HUD has seen an increase in homelessness in rural and suburban areas, though the highest levels of homelessness remain in urban areas and New York, Florida, California, Texas and Georgia. These five states account for almost 50 percent of the U.S. homeless population.

Marvin Smalls, a 59-year-old man who has been homeless off and on since 2002, said he is not surprised about the Boston homelessness statistics.

“The shelters here are so full, especially this time of year,” said Smalls, who sometimes stands outside of the City Convenience in Boston University’s West Campus. “Sometimes you can get in and other days you don’t have a chance. Hell, it would be great if we could all have our own place, but I don’t think its going to happen any time soon.”

Mark Landers, a 47-year-old man who lost his job in June and has been homeless since October, said this time of year is harder, especially when you have children.

“You say they are going to fix family homelessness by 2020 — well I don’t have that much time,” he said. “It’ll be great when they can end it, but I don’t have that much time for my kid.”

But Donovan said the latest numbers prove that the issue is something the nation can fix.

“We are proving President Obama right in one of his strongest beliefs — that ending homelessness isn’t just a noble fight, but a problem that we can solve,” Donovan said. “Nobody wants to be homeless. And in America, nobody has to be.”

Zoe Roos contributed to the reporting of this article.