As more Americans become poor, will more become homeless?

As more Americans become poor, will more become homeless?

If someone asked you to guess if homelessness rose or fell during the Great Recession, what would you say? I would have guessed that more people were homeless, that the number was rising.

But actually, it fell. About 34,877 less people were homeless in the middle of the recession than at the start. Why? Well, experts at the National Alliance to End Homelessness say that it's because we increased funding for homeless prevention, and it worked.

All that progress may be undone, and then some. New projections show that homelessness will rise by about 5 percent nationally by 2013. That means that about 74,000 more people will be living on the streets, according to heir new report, Increases in Homelessness on the Horizon (pdf).

So why is homelessness going up again, after it went down? A combination of two factors: one, the economy is still circling the drain. The number of families living in poverty is up and incomes are down. Unemployment isn't looking like it will be back to pre-recession levels until the middle of the next decade.

Two, all that funding put into preventing people from  becoming homeless is drying up, most of it already gone.

What will a 5 percent increase mean for Chicago? Our poverty numbers are up, despite the decline in population in the city.

Current estimates from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless put the number of homeless folks in the city at around 93,780. If we see just a 5 percent increase, that means another 4,700 people would be added. But a 5 percent increase may be a conservative estimate for the Windy City. The coalition's show that there was already a 5 percent increase from last year's homeless estimate.  In 2010, a 27 city survey said that homelessness was up 9 percent in the nation's cities. Chicago itself reported an 11 percent increase in adult homelessness alone.

But blogger Catherine An at the National Alliance to End Homelessness says these numbers aren't set in stone. In fact, the organization initially predicted a rise in homelessness during the recession.

"We can take the steps necessary to prevent the projected increases in homelessness and assist vulnerable people back into stable housing. But we need to choose to make ending homelessness a national priority," writes An. "The question is – will we?"

A good question. I wish I was more sure of the answer.

Photo credit: Beverly & Pack

© Community Renewal Society 2011

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  • More of them may just break into foreclosed houses, too. Would that make them homeless?

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