We’re winning the battle of homelessness in Connecticut

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Connecticut’s annual count of homelessness shows that our state continues to make major gains in the effort to end this significant problem, driving overall homelessness down to new lows. The continuing decline follows major investments to end homelessness by the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly, in tandem with concerted efforts to coordinate and target resources at the community level.

The Jan. 26 “Point-in-Time” count, executed by every community across the nation as required by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, is coordinated in our state by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness (CCEH). This year’s count showed that, overall, homelessness in Connecticut is down nearly four percent compared to 2015, and has dropped by 13 percent since 2007.

The count registered the lowest total since statewide counts started in Connecticut in 2007, and identified 3,902 individuals experiencing homelessness (down from 4,038 in 2015, the previous low point in the annual count).

At the same time, the number of chronically homeless (those experiencing long-term homeless and living with severe disabilities) decreased 20 percent across Connecticut compared to the 2015 count, continuing a sharp downward trend in this population since 2014. This population tends to carry high cost for the communities in which they live when they are homeless. Resolving their homelessness by housing them with supports saves scarce community resources and improves individual lives.

Connecticut is part of the national Zero: 2016 initiative to end veteran homelessness, a goal set by President Obama, and to end chronic homelessness by the end of 2016. The federal government confirmed in February that Connecticut was the second state in the nation to functionally end veteran homelessness by housing all long-term homeless veterans and securing housing for any veterans newly identified as homeless in less than 90 days.

Securing victory on ending veteran homelessness proves that we can accomplish what many have viewed as impossible. Working together to effectively leverage our federal and state resources with the on the ground efforts of our local partners has been critical to our success. These results show that we are on track to end chronic homelessness as well.

Here’s why this effort matters so much in Connecticut right now:  when we allow chronic homelessness to persist, our communities pay a high cost. In these challenging times, Connecticut taxpayers want to know that we are investing scarce public dollars as wisely as possible.

People who are chronically homeless tend to cycle in and out of expensive public services, like emergency departments, hospital in-patient care, and jails – racking up high costs while their homelessness persists. Studies across the nation show that communities can decrease costs by up to 70 percent when they house this population with appropriate supports. Ending chronic homelessness is a smart investment – saving lives and saving public funds.

But let’s be clear:  ending homelessness does not mean that no one will ever experience a housing crisis again.

Changing economic realities, the unpredictability of life, and unsafe or unwelcoming family environments – these factors may create situations where individuals, families, or youth will still experience homelessness.

Ending homelessness in Connecticut means that every community will have a response system to prevent homelessness whenever possible and to ensure that homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring when it does happen.

We are building a strong homelessness response system in every community, starting with those who are most vulnerable and highest need. Homeless providers have done heroic work over the past two years to break down silos, coordinate the efforts of multiple agencies as teams in each community, and stretch every dollar available to serve those in need, with a particular focus on serving the most vulnerable first.

It’s been a challenge to build this coordination, but we are seeing the fruits of that hard work as we move the needle on ending the important, and often expensive, problem of chronic homelessness.

For other populations experiencing homelessness, there is work ahead of us: family homelessness remained level, with 1,332 people in families counted as experiencing homelessness in the 2016 count (seven fewer families, but 13 individuals more than the 2015 family count). And Connecticut’s first-ever count of homeless youth in 2015 showed some 3,000 unaccompanied youth age 24 and under experiencing homelessness in our state.

We have made great strides in ending the homelessness of key populations. We need to carry forward that momentum, teamwork, and innovation to end the homelessness of vulnerable youth and families in our state. With continued support and investment, we know we can do it.

Please visit cceh.org to download the full “Connecticut Counts: 2016 Report on Homelessness in Connecticut.”

Lisa Tepper Bates is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. Alicia Woodsby is Executive Director of the Partnership for Strong Communities.

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