No, Baltimore homelessness isn’t dropping
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.