The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently released their 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) that’s sent to Congress. The most striking thing about the report is how much it seems to take credit for the Obama (and Bush) eras while downplaying the Trump administration’s failings. While HUD crows about homelessness decreasing by 13.2 percent since 2010, overall homelessness has increased in both 2017 and 2018, as has the number of unsheltered homeless (living on the street versus in a shelter). I’d hazard a guess that the concerted decrease in sheltered homeless beginning in 2016 is the result of Obama-era facilities coming online to serve the homeless.
HUD blames the increases on various natural disasters, but fails to explain the 2015-2016 drop in sheltered homeless. Long-term homeless increased by 2.2 percent in the past year, but again are down 16.4 percent compared to 2010.
Just this morning it was reported that after leaving food assistance programs alone in the recently passed farm bill, Trump is using regulatory rulemaking to attempt to trim food stamp programs. This is happening because the House and Senate opposed the measures. But not all opposed, House Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, was the primary champion for tighter SNAP work requirements and praised the proposed rule change.
Under Trump’s rules, the work requirement would be increased from 18-49 to 18-59 years old. States would lose the ability to bank unused funds for future use and waive work requirements in cities or counties during times of high unemployment (which Trump wants to set at seven percent).
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “We would much rather have Congress enact these important reforms for the SNAP program. However, these regulatory changes by the USDA will save hardworking taxpayers $15 billion over 10 years and give President Trump comfort enough to support a farm bill he might otherwise have opposed.” That farm bill seeks to mitigate farmers’ hardships created by Trump’s various trade wars.
Clearly this will have a negative impact on national and Texas homelessness in the coming years.
On the upside, veteran homelessness has declined under Trump due to HUD and VA programs designed to target the group. Overall, veteran homelessness was down 5.4 percent since January 2017 with the female number down 10 percent. However, since 2010, veteran homelessness is down 49 percent.
Also good are the numbers of homeless families, which declined 2.7 percent in 2017 (and 29 percent since 2010).
Both the veteran and family numbers show that the declines are slowing under Trump.
It was noted that much of the success can be attributed to “Housing First” programs that rapidly rehouse the homeless. The report noted that these programs save “taxpayers considerable money by interrupting the costly cycle of emergency room and hospital, detox, and even jail visits.”
As I’ve been saying for years, fixing homelessness is cheaper than maintaining homelessness.
How’d Texas Do?
Half of all homeless people are in five states. Interestingly, while Texas is the second most populous states, it’s fourth in the number of homeless. California, New York, and Florida beat us, which I think comes mostly down to cost of living. Still, Texas accounts for 5 percent of the nation’s homeless population, equating to 25,310 people on a given night. That’s nine of every 10,000 people, considerably less than the national average of 17 per 10,000 people.
Unfortunately, Texas is moving in the wrong direction, being one of 19 states where homelessness increased. In 2017-2018, Texas added 1,762 homeless or a 7.5 percent increase. But, from 2007-2018, Texas homelessness decreased by 36.4 percent or 14,478 fewer homeless over the 11-year period – the second-best record over the 11-year period. Unfortunately, of the five states showing the biggest declines over the past 11-year period, only Texas is also in the top five for recent increases.
Interestingly, the makeup of Texas homeless is shifting. While the state added 1,762 homeless overall, the total number of homeless individuals increased by 2,491 people while families decreased by 729 people. This represents a 15 percent increase and the largest numerical increase in homeless individuals in the country. But again, over the past 11-year period, homeless individuals dropped 7,107 people or 27 percent. Again, what happened in the past year to reverse that positive trend?
Texas is also pretty bad at supplying homeless shelters, with 54 percent of Texas homeless sleeping outdoors. Maine, Nebraska, Rhode Island, and Vermont all housed more than 90 percent of their homeless.
Homelessness is measured by where it occurs – major city, largely suburban, “other” largely suburban (smaller suburbs), and largely rural.
On the upside, the only category where Texas showed in the top five was in largely rural, where we unfortunately scored the highest homeless population with 7,638 homeless – or approximately a third of the state’s homeless.
Homeless veterans also decreased considerably both in 2017-2018 and 2009-2018 where declines equaled 9.7 percent and a whopping 64.8 percent respectively – the fourth largest declines on both timeframes. Also, chronically homeless individuals declined during both timeframes with Texas diminishing its chronically homeless individuals by 6.5 percent year-over-year and 58.8 percent over the past 11 years.
One of the reasons we might have escaped the other categories is due to a lower cost of living in Texas cities and suburbs. For example, three of the top five cities were in California, with New York City and Seattle rounding out the five.
Overall, on the national and state level, there have been troubling increases in homelessness during the current administration that look to get worse should food stamp rules tighten. But, there has been better news for Texas in selected year-over-year metrics as well as some larger trends over the past eleven years.
Again, it’s cheaper to fix the problem than it is to maintain it. Regardless of political bent, we should all be in favor of that.
To get a clearer look at the total number and demographics of the North Texas homeless population, the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance is conducting the annual Homeless Count on January 24, and needs volunteers to cover the most ground and get the most accurate number of homeless in the area and to provide the homeless with comfort and care packages. To find out more or to volunteer, sign up with MDHA.
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