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Report: Homelessness in CT increased for second year in a row

Makeshift beds under the highway in the northern end of Hartford.
Jose Vega
via Connecticut Mirror
Makeshift beds under the highway in the northern end of Hartford.

After nearly a decade of decreases, homelessness in Connecticut rose slightly for the second year in a row in 2023 — likely a result of sustained fallout from the pandemic, experts said.

The latest point-in-time count shows that there were 3,015 people experiencing homelessness in January 2023, compared to 2,930 in January 2022. That’s close to a 3% increase, according to the report released Monday.

For eight years, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Connecticut had been on the decline. But last year saw a 13% increase compared to 2021. Providers fear the increases in the report are a harbinger for a rough winter.

“We’re seeing increases across the board, not only in calls to 211, but we’re predicting that this is going to be the worst winter ever in Connecticut for our services,” said Sarah Fox, newly appointed chief executive officer at the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.

Service providers said last year and in public testimony during the legislative session that pandemic-related economic problems persisted for many people with low incomes and had led to increases in homelessness. Evictions have also been on the rise, which can lead to homelessness for many families.

Rents have also risen in recent years, which has made it more difficult for many to find an apartment. Experts have attributed this largely to a lack of supply — Connecticut lacks about 89,000 units of housing that would be affordable and available to its lowest-income renters.

The lack of supply also means that people are spending more time in shelters as they look for a place to live, Fox said.

Connecticut saw increases in homelessness likely tied to income loss, the end of pandemic-era eviction protections and a lack of affordable housing, said Brennden Colbert, training program coordinator at Advancing CT Together, the group that led Connecticut’s count.

The point-in-time count is a federally mandated annual census of the homeless population in every state. It’s conducted over a 24-hour period in January. The results of the count help the federal government determine how to allocate certain funding for homeless services. But many say the report is likely an undercount.

Connecticut’s latest data show that the number of chronically homeless people in Connecticut stayed steady at 117. People who are chronically homeless are unhoused for at least a year or in multiple instances and have a serious mental illness, substance abuse disorder or physical disability. The population often has complicated needs.

Fourteen people who identified as transgender or gender non-conforming were unhoused, according to a summary of notable findings in the report. Studies have shown that the LGBTQ population is at disproportionate risk of experiencing homelessness and once they’re homeless are more likely to experience discrimination.

The report also shows that the number of people 24 years and under experiencing homelessness has increased nearly 8% since last year.

Colbert said that’s likely tied to more people who are living in cars or other places not meant for human habitation self-identifying as homeless, along with increases in evictions. Studies have shown that families with children are at increased risk of eviction.

Nationally, the count has been criticized as incomplete. Many housing experts say it tends to miss children because they are more likely to stay in a hotel or to be “doubled up,” with friends or family.

Fox referred to Connecticut’s as a “huge undercount.”

The point-in-time count typically captures data on those who are staying in shelters. People who are on the streets, in cars, or hotels, among other locations, are more difficult to count. This leads to different data points depending on how homelessness is counted.

For example, the Connecticut Department of Education’s homelessness dashboard counted 3,984 students experiencing homelessness in the 2021-22 school year. That’s more than the total number of adults and children included in the point-in-time count for either of those years.

Fox said internal data show about 4,500 people accessed homelessness services — including some day services — in February.

“It’s not always somebody living under a bridge with a bunch of blankets who are homeless,” Colbert said. “Sometimes they look like average people. Sometimes people don’t look like what they’re going through.”

The national 2022 point-in-time count found that there were nearly 578,000 people experiencing homelessness in the United States. That number only includes the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

The 2023 national numbers aren’t yet available.

Steve Berg, chief policy officer at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said in a press call last week on the 2022 numbers that the issue is largely that people are moving into homelessness faster than they are moving out of it.

“The number of people losing their housing and becoming homeless is on a bad … trend right now,” he said.

It’s difficult for developers to build housing that’s affordable to the lowest-income renters and turn a profit without government assistance, said Diane Yentel, president and chief executive officer at the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

“This is a basic market failure that requires government intervention,” Yentel said on the call.

Wages also aren’t increasing fast enough to keep up with rising rents post-pandemic, leaving many paying larger chunks of their income toward housing costs, said Peggy Bailey, vice president for housing and income security at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, on the press call.

In Connecticut, housing and homelessness got renewed attention during the legislative session. Homelessness service providers asked for $50 million to fund the homelessness response system. The money would have gone to pay increases for workers, annual dollars for the cold weather response and the 211 system.

While they didn’t receive the full amount, there were some increases in the budget for homelessness services. Fox said these services got $5 million that they are working to allocate, $2 million in flexible spending and additional dollars for the 211 system.

Other money to support people experiencing homelessness is dispersed through several agencies including the Department of Housing.

She’s worried about going into winter without extra money in place needed to open up emergency cold-weather beds.

“Once again we’re in this place where it’s August, and we don’t have the resources in place to adequately shelter people through the winter,” Fox said.

Providers are also low on staff and many don’t have the money to hire new employees to replace those who have left, Fox added.

The coalition has recently started work on a plan to end homelessness in Connecticut. In 2016, Connecticut became the second state in the nation to get official federal recognition for ending veteran homelessness.

When people in the housing and homelessness sphere talk about “ending homelessness,” they typically mean that they are meeting the federal definition of what’s called “functional zero.”

Essentially, this means that the overall system designed to prevent homelessness and help people experiencing homelessness is ready. It means that workers can prevent homelessness as often as possible and ensure that when it does happen, it’s rare, brief and one-time.

This story was originally published by the Connecticut Mirror.

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