Homelessness declined by more than 10 percent in Virginia from 2015 to 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found in its annual report released on Nov. 17.
HUD’s Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress provides estimates for the level of homelessness in each state based on point-in-time counts recorded during one night each January.
Point-in-time counts are collected by continuums of care (CoC) throughout the nation.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness defines a continuum of care as a “regional or local planning body that coordinates housing and services funding for homeless families and individuals.” 403 CoC’s nationwide contributed to the HUD report.
“Every person deserves a safe, stable place to call home,” HUD Secretary Julián Castro said in a press release announcing the report’s release. “[This] marks the seventh straight year of measurable progress. While we know that our work is far from finished, it’s clear we’re on the right track to prevent and end homelessness for good.”
According to the report, Virginia had 6,268 homeless people in 2016, down 10.5 percent from 2015 and 31 percent from 2010.
HUD estimated that Virginia had 7,001 homeless people in 2015.
The 2016 report found that Virginia had an estimated 3,959 homeless individuals and 2,309 people in families with children.
The overall count for the state also includes 322 unaccompanied youth, a slight drop from 330 youths in 2015. HUD said in its press release that it plans to start “a more robust effort” to account for that particular population when it collects data in January 2017.
The rate of chronic or long-term homelessness in Virginia also decreased from more than 1,000 individuals in 2015 to 750 chronically homeless individuals in 2016, a 31.5 percent decline.
Virginia also saw its population of homeless veterans drop 10.5 percent from 604 in 2015 to 515 in 2016.
87.8 percent, or 5,502, of Virginia’s homeless people are in shelters compared to 12.2 percent, or 766, people who are unsheltered.
“Virginia is making significant strides in reducing homelessness among veterans, families and those living on the streets day after day,” Jane C.W. Vincent, the regional manager for HUD’s mid-Atlantic region, said.
HUD’s mid-Atlantic region has headquarters in Philadelphia, Pa., and encompasses Virginia, Deleware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.
Fairfax County also saw downward trends in 2016, according to point-in-time data collected by the county on Jan. 28.
The annual Fairfax-Falls Church community survey from the Fairfax County Office to Prevent and End Homelessness found that there were 1,059 total homeless people in 2016, including 482 individuals and 577 people in families with children.
That overall total marked a 12 percent decrease from January 2015, when the county had 1,204 homeless people.
Fairfax County’s homeless population has declined by 42 percent since 2008, the earliest year for which the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness has available point-in-time data. There were 1,835 homeless people in 2008.
According to its website, the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness credits Fairfax County’s decreasing homeless population to its adoption of a “Housing First” approach, which emphasizes moving people into stable, long-term housing instead of letting them stay in homeless shelters.
The prioritization of housing for individuals with the longest history of and greatest vulnerability to homelessness, the development of a more unified approach to the homeless services system, and the addition of more permanent housing options are also listed as contributing factors to the decline in homelessness around the county.
Fairfax County’s 2016 point-in-time count was coordinated with the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and the Commonwealth of Virginia, and it was conducted in accordance with HUD guidelines, the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness website says.
Declines in homelessness in Fairfax County and Virginia reflected a national decline, according to HUD’s Annual Homelessness Assessment Report.
The 2016 report found that 549,928 people were experiencing homelessness in the U.S., slightly down from 564,708 people in 2015.
According to HUD, these consistent declines are a sign of progress under the Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness released by President Obama’s administration in 2010 and amended in 2015.
Opening Doors provided guidelines to the 19 federal agencies in the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness as well as local and state partners in both the public and private sectors. The plan was designed to coordinate housing, health, education and human services programs to form a multifaceted approach to tackling homelessness.
Since Obama established the Opening Doors plan, homelessness in the U.S. has declined by 14 percent overall, and unsheltered homelessness has dropped by 25 percent.
Opening Doors set a series of goals for the country, including ending chronic homelessness by 2017, preventing and ending homelessness of veterans by 2015, and preventing and ending homelessness for families, youth and children by 2020.
The number of chronically homeless individuals in the U.S. declined by 27 percent, or 28,600 people, between 2010 and 2016, but chronic homelessness continues to affect more than 77,000 individuals, two-thirds of whom were reported as living on the streets instead of in shelters.
The country’s homeless veteran population dropped by 47 percent, or almost 35,000 people, from 2010 to 2016, with a 17 percent drop of more than 8,000 people coming in between 2015 and 2016 alone.
The 195,000 people in families with children experiencing homelessness in the U.S. in January 2016 marked a 20 percent decline of more than 47,000 people from 2010.
In addition to those counted as part of a family, almost 36,000 youths, or people under the age of 25, experienced homelessness on their own in 2016. Roughly 89 percent of those youths were between the ages of 18 and 24, while 3,800 of the people in this group were under the age of 18.
The 2015 amendment to Opening Doors clarified that none of the numbers are expected to reach zero in any of the categories under consideration.
“Communities should have systems in place to ensure that people who become homeless have a brief and non-recurring experience of homelessness and one that keeps them safe,” the 2016 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report read.