The U.S. is seeing more people move out of homelessness than ever before. Since 2017, the average annual number of homeless persons has been just over 900,000. Problem is, about the same or more people have lost their housing over the last few years. Monday's release by the Biden administration to combat the homelessness crisis calls for more action to prevent people losing their homes. The plan was developed by Jeff Olivet, the executive director of U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. We have not done a good job of shutting off the water tap as a nation. This plan includes several ways to increase affordable housing supply and increase the number emergency shelters, support programs, and other measures. The biggest change in the plan is the call for "systematic prevention" of homelessness, which focuses on those who are most vulnerable to losing their homes. The goal is to reduce the unsheltered population by 25% by 2025. It calls for states and local governments around the world to adopt it as a model. According to data released Monday, the number of homeless people has stabilised after a steady increase since 2016. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were 582,462 people experiencing homelessness on one night in January 2018. This is only slightly less than the full count in January 2020 before the pandemic. More than a million people and their families were without housing during the year. This disparity is what the plan seeks to correct. The majority of homeless people were living on the streets, not in shelters. This shift has raised awareness about the problem but also resulted in more communities cracking down and criminalizing those who sleep or sit in public spaces. Olivet and other local advocates attribute the slew of federal financial aid provided during the pandemic to preventing an increase in homelessness. They warn that the number of homeless could rise again, even though most of that federal financial aid is gone. There are also significant differences between certain groups, according to the latest data. Unhoused veterans, their families and youths are all down. Single adults and people with disabilities are both increasing in numbers. Olivet states, "Wherever we invest, success is ours." It just keeps getting worse." Paul Downey, a homelessness advocate for over 30 years, says that the main focus has been on how to help homeless people get into shelters, access services, and return to permanent housing. He says that there has been little discussion about "how we prevent it from happening in the first place" even though it is obvious. Downey is the head of Serving Seniors San Diego. A recent count revealed that 25% of those without housing are aged 55 and older. He says. "It just keeps getting worse, no matter what we do." When Downey surveyed seniors last year, he had an "aha" moment about prevention. A majority of them said that a few hundred dollars per month would keep them off the streets. He relayed this to the local officials. Both San Diego County and the City of San Diego now have pilot programs to help seniors at risk and other renters by up to $500 per month. Downey believes this is a bargain when compared to the $35,000 per year that it would cost for one person experiencing homelessness within San Diego. This includes the actions of police, first-responders and the criminal justice system. He will study the effects of the pilot rent subsidy and hope it can be expanded. Unhoused woman protests police's plan to disperse a small homeless camp in New York City earlier this year. The majority of people experiencing homelessness now live on the streets, not in shelters. This shift has increased visibility and led to more crackdowns.
Reaching the most vulnerable to losing their housing is the challenge. At Friendship Place, Washington, D.C., there is a steady stream from unhoused people who come for hot coffee, clothing, and assistance in getting into housing. Sean Read, Chief Community Solutions Officer, says that there is a national shortage of affordable housing. It's crucial to find creative solutions. This could include paying parking tickets, having a driver's licence reinstated or getting a car fixed. Read states that if you can fix a car for $800 that keeps the person in work, and then they are able to afford the $2,000 per month rent, it will be a cheaper solution. It can be difficult to identify those most at risk of losing their housing. Los Angeles County has developed a computer model that tracks data from eight agencies. The caseworkers reach out and offer financial support and other support for those in need. Olivet, who was part of the Biden homelessness plan's creation, says that this is a "sophisticated, interesting direction" and that the federal government could do a better job screening for risk. Olivet believes that the most vulnerable groups to homelessness should be those who are in or near prison, addicted or receiving mental health treatment or foster care. We have an opportunity at those crucial moments of transition. Olivet states that we know where people are. Olivet says, "We could connect that in-patient, incarceration or foster care experience directly into housing. You don't have to live in shelter. Prevention also means "more shelter, more housing and more housing." The report by the administration cites a variety of causes for homelessness, including a lack in public funding, severe housing shortages -- particularly for those with low incomes renters, record rents, wages that aren't keeping up with the soaring housing prices, and more climate-driven weather disasters that cause homes to be destroyed. The worst inflation in decades has only made matters worse for many, starting last year. Friendship Place states that preventing homelessness long-term requires "more housing," which is clearly stated by Read. Downey, an advocate in San Diego says that the process of building it must be quicker. It took so long to get through the system and to put the financing in place to build the housing. The Biden administration's plan for homelessness includes efforts to make it easier to access federal tax credits to help build low-income housing. It also encourages communities and other stakeholders to rezone to allow for more density. Olivet from the Interagency Council on Homelessness states that more federal funding is needed for affordable housing. President Biden also calls for it. Voters in many places approved more funding to help build and subsidize affordable housing during November's elections. Separately, the Biden administration has stated that it will collaborate with many places across the country to reduce the number of homeless people. Although there is no additional funding, federal staff will work with local officials to navigate the 19 U.S. agencies which can offer support. Officials have yet to name the exact locations, but they say that the program will be launched next year. Copyright 2022 NPR. For more information, please visit URL.