No, Bal­ti­more home­less­ness isn’t drop­ping

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE - Lau­ren Siegel and Jeff Singer, Bal­ti­more The writ­ers are co-founders of CASH: City Ad­vo­cates in Sol­i­dar­ity with the Home­less.

Hardly a week passes when we are not asked if we are see­ing more peo­ple on the streets these days. The an­swer is, un­for­tu­nately, yes. Then via The Sun, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in­forms us that home­less­ness is on the de­cline through­out the U.S. and specif­i­cally in Mary­land (“Home­less­ness de­clines by 8% in Mary­land,” Nov. 17). These con­clu­sions were pub­lished in the “2016 Annual Home­less As­sess­ment Re­port to Congress” from the Fed­eral De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment.

Cer­tainly the pro­fes­sion­als in the home­less­ness in­dus­trial com­plex (lo­cal, state and fed­eral) have an in­ter­est in claim­ing that home­less­ness is re­ced­ing — show­ing that their work is ef­fec­tive keeps them em­ployed. Peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness and out­reach work­ers through­out the U.S. have at­tempted to set the record straight; this is our small at­tempt for Bal­ti­more.

We draw your read­ers’ at­ten­tion to two fun­da­men­tal is­sues: 1) Point-in-time counts are im­pov­er­ished es­ti­mates of the num­ber of peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness who are most eas­ily found on a few nights in Jan­uary ev­ery other year; and 2) Home­less­ness pro­grams can­not end home­less­ness; only a suf­fi­cient sup­ply of af­ford­able hous­ing, cou­pled with ad­e­quate in­comes and ro­bust ser­vices, can ac­com­plish this goal.

With re­spect to point No. 1, in 2015 the Mayor’s Of­fice of Home­less Ser­vices ob­served that the point-in-time count “pro­vides an es­ti­mate of home­less­ness; widely con­sid­ered an un­der­count.” In 2008, well­known home­less­ness re­searcher Kim Hop­per pub­lished a study of these counts, find­ing that “the num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing on the streets was un­der­counted by 29 per­cent-41 per­cent.” In 2012, the In­sti­tute for Chil­dren, Poverty, and Home­less­ness noted that “point-in-time counts mask in­creases in home­less fam­i­lies liv­ing in shel­ter.” The National Al­liance to End Home­less­ness and the Cor­po­ra­tion for Sup­port­ive Hous­ing cal­cu­late that the num­ber of peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­ence home­less­ness dur­ing any year is at least three to six times the num­ber counted on any par­tic­u­lar night.

With re­spect to point No. 2, the Har­vard Joint Cen­ter for Hous­ing Stud­ies re­ports that a record high 11.4 mil­lion renter house­holds paid more than one-half of their in­come for hous­ing in 2014. Closer to home, 92,186 Bal­ti­more house­holds (38.6 per­cent) can­not af­ford their monthly hous­ing costs, which is as­so­ci­ated with the 150,000 annual land­lord fil­ings for evic­tions in Bal­ti­more City. Mean­while the Hous­ing Au­thor­ity of Bal­ti­more City has presided over a dra­matic re­duc­tion of pub­lic hous­ing, from 18,393 units in 1992 to an es­ti­mated 6,550 units when cur­rent pri­va­ti­za­tion plans are im­ple­mented.

To af­ford a two-bed­room apart­ment in Mary­land, a fam­ily must work 129 hours per week at the min­i­mum wage.

In the con­text of low in­comes and ex­pen­sive hous­ing costs, home­less­ness pro­grams have not — and can­not — make home­less­ness rare and brief. We earnestly hope that Bal­ti­more­ans in­ter­ested in end­ing home­less­ness will re­ject the failed pro­grams of the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion and join with us in ad­vo­cat­ing for the ef­fec­tive so­lu­tions of af­ford­able hous­ing, ad­e­quate in­comes and ro­bust ser­vices.

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