First the good news. Annie Lowrey dicusses the conclusions of an annual report to Congress prepared by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that shows, "[t]he number of chronically homeless people — a particularly at-risk population often in need of mental and physical health services and other safety-net support — fell about 7 percent in 2011 and more than 19 percent since 2007. Homelessness among veterans declined more than 7 percent in 2011 and 17 percent since 2009."
Against the backdrop of the Great Recession, these gains are particularly impressive. "Indeed," says Lowrey, "the number of people counted as homeless has fallen for four out of the past five years. It is now about 6 percent lower than it was five years ago. Many poverty experts anticipated that homelessness would increase during the recession, and many were surprised that it did not."
Despite the gains, goals established in 2010 by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness to end chronic and veteran homelessness by 2015, and homelessness among families, the young and children by 2020 are unlikely to be met. “They have set ambitious goals for themselves, but I don’t think those are goals that aren’t doable,” said Nan Roman, the president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “But not at the rate that we’re going.”
A least part of the reason for the recent declines can be attributed to a $1.5 billion infusion of federal stimulus money that is estimated to have "prevented or ended homelessness for more than one million people." However, notes Lowrey, "with emergency stimulus financing at its end, experts worry that homelessness might increase for some vulnerable groups in the coming year."