V.I. Homelessness Dropped Faster than National Figures Since 2010

Newly released federal statistics show a 31 percent drop in the number of persons living on the streets in the U.S. Virgin Islands, outstripping a 26 percent decline in the national numbers. While good news, a portion of the seeming improvement may be due to fewer people counting USVI homeless this year.

Last week the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released its latest national estimate of homelessness, highlighting a continuing decline across the nation. HUD’s 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress found an 11 percent decline in the total number of people who experienced a period of homelessness since 2010.Not all homeless end up on the street, and the latest figures show a 26 percent drop, nationally, in people living on the street.

In the USVI, local communities reported a total 337 persons experienced homelessness, representing a 31 percent decline since 2010, the year President Barack Obama launched Opening Doors, which, according to HUD, is the nation’s first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness.

Overall homelessness declined by 150 persons or 31 percent since 2010.In January 2015, an estimated 337 people were homeless on a given night; 85 persons were staying in residential programs for homeless people; and 252 persons were found in unsheltered locations.

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Chronic homelessness among individuals continued to decline.Since 2010, chronic homelessness declined 94 percent; 22 individuals experiencing homelessness in January 2015 were reported as chronically homeless.

When the count was completed in January, its organizers said the lower numbers counted may be attributable to many things besides actual reductions in homelessness, including fewer volunteer counters than in previous years. With fewer people counting, some of the homeless could have been missed. (See “The Homeless Are Counted. Now What?” in Related links below)

But some programs that assist with housing may be helping too. Data from many studies suggests direct housing assistance – just paying rent for homeless persons – is both the cheapest way to address the problem, and saves equal or greater amounts of money that would have been spent on police response, incarceration and medical treatment at emergency rooms.Once in stable housing for a time, many former street homeless are able to stabilize enough to begin treatment for mental health issues and move on to more stable lives. (See “Training Session Tackles V.I. Homelessness” below)

Locally at least 10 individuals living on the street in 2013 were housed through Home at Last!, a permanent supportive housing pilot project funded by the local government and operated by Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands. All were street homeless; one in Cruz Bay and the others in downtown Charlotte Amalie.

Not all the V.I. statistics are improving. According to HUD, veteran homelessness rose 6 percent between 2011-2015 and family homelessness rose 11 percent between 2010 and 2015. But the figures indicate chronic homelessness fell 94 percent between 2010-2015.

These figures differ from the national numbers, where veteran homelessness declined 36 percent between 2010 and 2015; family homelessness dropped 19 percent; and chronic homelessness fell 22 percent.

HUD’s annual report shows that certain communities are making significant progress, while others are struggling in light of the widespread housing affordability crisis, budget shortfalls or slow adoption of best practices.The results are based on HUD’s point-in-time estimates, which seek to measure the scope of homelessness on a single night in January each year.

“The Obama Administration has made an historic commitment to effectively end homelessness in this nation,” said HUD Secretary Julian Castro in a Friday statement. “Together with our partners across the federal government and communities from coast to coast, we have made tremendous progress toward our ambitious goals. But our work is far from finished.”

“We have to continue making smart investments in the strategies that work so that everyone has a roof over their head,” Castro said.

HUD southeast regional administrator Ed Jennings Jr. said in the statement, “We are encouraged by the progress made in the battle to end chronic homelessness in the U.S. Virgin Islands. There is more work to be done but with dedicated partnership efforts taking place on the ground, we will succeed.”

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