WASHINGTON - The number of chronically homeless people living in the nation's streets and shelters has dropped by about 30 percent - to 123,833 from 175,914 - between 2005 and 2007, Bush administration officials said yesterday.
Housing officials say the statistics, which the Department of Housing and Urban Development collects each year from more than 3,800 cities and counties, may reflect better data collection and reporting and some variation in the number of communities reporting on an annual basis. But the officials attribute much of the decline to the "housing first" strategy that has been promoted by the Bush administration and Congress and increasingly adopted across the country.
In that approach, local officials place chronically homeless people into permanent shelter - apartments, halfway houses, or rooms - and then focus on treating addiction and mental and health problems. HUD defines chronically homeless people as disabled individuals who have been continuously homeless for more than a year or have experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.
Until cities and states began adopting the program, many of those people seemed to shuttle endlessly between shelters, hospitals, and the street. The "housing first" strategy has begun to stabilize that population, officials say.
"We can all be encouraged that we're making progress in reducing chronic street homelessness," Housing Secretary Steven C. Preston said in a statement.
HUD collects the statistics as part of its Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. The report said that 1.6 million people experienced homelessness and found shelter between Oct. 1, 2006 and Sept. 30, 2007. Individuals accounted for 70 percent of the people living in shelters during that time. The rest were families with children.
Critics of the report often say that it undercounts the homeless because it does not include those in precarious living situations such as families living in campgrounds or individuals doubled up with friends or relatives.