The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced that Maine experienced a dramatic 26% increase in homelessness, but that number included not only people who were homeless but people who had moved into transitional or independence-modeled housing. The real percentage of people who were homeless during the survey period was 11%.
The clarification is important to note as volunteers throughout the state prepare for the 2014 Point in Time Survey, which will be conducted on Wednesday evening, January 29.
In a report to Congress last November, HUD stated that Maine had a 26% year-over-year increase in homelessness in the annual Point In Time (PIT) Survey taken in 2013 when compared to the previous year’s count. Last January 30, 3,016 individuals were counted, up 26% from 2,393 individuals in the 2012 survey. Portland alone saw a 24% increase.
HUD’s number included people who were once homeless and now have homes through transitional or independence-modeled housing programs. In actuality, homelessness is up 11% in Maine when only the number of people who do not have a home is counted. According to the PIT data, these individuals and families were staying in emergency shelters, safe havens, or unsheltered outdoors on that January night last year.
Transitional or independence-modeled housing programs are limited because of funding and primarily assist people who present the greatest potential to be able to live on their own.
The Bridging Rental Assistance Program (BRAP), managed by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, assists people with documented severe and persistent mental illness to attain independence and control over where they live and what services they need in their recovery.
Showing the importance of this effort, DHHS recently created approximately 250 new rental subsidies in the BRAP initiative through an increase in state funding. Those new units are included in the transitional housing figures cited by HUD even though DHHS states that the housing provided through this initiative is not “transitional” by definition.
Also included were participants with housing in MaineHousing’s Stability Through Engagement Program (STEP). The effort works with individuals who are determined not to be homeless again and are willing to learn life skills to help them meet that goal.
In Portland, 32% more people are in transitional or independence-modeled housing programs than 2012, according to the PIT data.
The PIT is an annual one-night survey required of each state by HUD to determine the dimensions of homeless populations, including chronically homeless individuals, veterans, victims of domestic violence, children, and youth. Volunteers go to unsheltered sites such as under bridges, to “camps,” or to any place that they may know where a person who is homeless may be staying, and ask questions about their living situation as well as provide resources to help get them in from the cold. The results, along with annual figures, are used by MaineHousing and service providers, particularly the state’s two Continuums of Care, to plan programs that appropriately address what resources are needed in their communities to prevent and end homelessness.
During the Point in Time Survey, Maine’s homeless shelters provide their data through the Homeless Management Information System. It’s individuals who are not in shelters that hundreds of volunteers, including those from the Maine Military Network, community action agencies, Catholic Charities, veteran’s groups, and town offices reach out and count.
For 2013, more people were without homes than in 2012. Shelters were experiencing a 5% increase in the number of individuals and families who are seeking a place to stay and an 11% increase in the number of nights that they stay in 2013.