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Homelessness on the decline, but drop is slow in Pa.
Homelessness in Pennsylvania decreased by half a percent from 2015 to 2016, bucking national trends showing the number of homeless individuals is on a sharp decline.
According to Housing and Urban Development statistics released Thursday, the number of homeless Pennsylvanians decreased slightly, from 15,421 in 2015 to 15,339 in 2016, during the department's annual point-in-time survey.
Since 2010, Pennsylvania has seen a 5.7 percent increase in overall homelessness. The commonwealth ranked 16th in the nation for number of homeless individuals in 2016.
HUD's statistics are an estimate, based on a count done by county agencies on the same night each year in January. This January’s count fell about the same time as 30 inches of snow blanketed York County, postponing the local count to the first week in February, said Kelly Blechertas, York County Planning Commission program reporting specialist.
Blechertas oversees the Homeless Management Information System, HUD-mandated software used to compile information on who is served in homeless housing.
The final tally for the 2016 point-in-time count in York County, conducted Feb. 3 and 4, was 540 "sheltered" homeless and 70 "unsheltered" homeless.
There were 475 sheltered homeless people in 2015, up from 423 in 2014 and 399 in 2013.
“York’s overall numbers — sheltered in homeless housing and unsheltered — were high for the 2016 point-in-time count, but we had increased outreach and were able to cover more areas of the county as part of our unsheltered count,” Blechertas said in an email. “We also see fluctuations due to weather.”
Overall, she said, the numbers have stayed about the same range in York County for the last several years while dropping 14 percent nationwide.
“I’m not seeing clear drops in any generic homeless housing needs, but if we look at specific populations, we have seen a decrease in the number of chronically homeless as well as the number of homeless veterans,” she stated.
Statewide, chronic homelessness, defined as individuals experiencing homelessness long term, also declined from 1,442 in 2015 to 1,209 in 2016, while the veteran homeless population decreased from 1,375 in 2015 to 1,136 in 2016.
In 2010, the Obama administration released Opening Doors, a federal initiative to end homelessness. Under the plan, which includes offering shelter to homeless veterans using state and federal funding, unsheltered homelessness declined by 25 percent and veteran homelessness dropped by 47 percent between 2010 and 2016.
Lancaster City and Lancaster County, Berks County and Philadelphia all met pledges to effectively end homelessness by offering housing for those who need it. York City signed on to the pledge, but during the 2016 point-in-time survey, an estimated 1,798 people were still living without a permanent home.
Blechertas said city numbers are higher because they include people temporarily staying in shelters who might not have come from York County.
York City Deputy Director James Crosby said emergency shelters and transitional housing programs are major parts of the homeless housing services provided in York, including transitional housing programs that serve families, domestic-violence victims, single men and seniors and six emergency shelters serving families, individuals and domestic-violence victims.
“The primary goal is always to move the homeless population to permanent housing, but (we) find it difficult because of the lack of affordable housing and the lack of jobs that pay a living wage,” Crosby said.