Homelessness is on the increase in Rhode Island
Every year, on a single night in each state, the Housing and Urban Development conducts a Point in Time (PIT) Count of people experiencing homelessness. The count provides a snapshot of homelessness across the United States.
The 2016 PIT count, shows that homelessness is increasing in Rhode Island—up by 1.7% overall. What is alarming is that chronic homelessness jumped by 66.6%, and families experiencing homelessness increased by 25%.
PIT Counts Miss a Lot of Homeless People
PIT counts are problematic in that they count people only for one night during the coldest time of year when shelters are more likely to be full. But, that is also when more people without homes double up with friends or family and not be counted.
Most counts do not include homeless people who are incarcerated, although their numbers are significant. Enumerators cannot be expected to cover every location, especially on a cold and dark winter night, and many people living in hidden places will be missed.
There is no common methodology in conducting the counts, so different people in different places embark on the project with a wide variety of guidelines. In essence, PIT counts are very likely to seriously underestimate the number of people experiencing homelessness on any given night.
Looming Funding Cuts Threaten Our Ability to Provide Services to Homeless People
The increase in homelessness in our state, revealed by the PIT count, is alarming at a time when federal and state funding is being slashed for programs that serve the most vulnerable homeless people. These are programs that provide housing assistance and cross-sector approaches to ending homelessness.
In Rhode Island, where we have made documented progress identifying and prioritizing services for homeless people with the greatest needs, we lack a stock of housing that is affordable for people at the lowest income levels. There is no effective state-wide coordinated effort focused on housing development and programs for people who are experiencing homelessness or are at-risk for homelessness. The 2018-19 Rhode Island budget may not include any housing stabilization funds, provided through Medicaid, which have been highly effective in moving chronically homeless people from the streets to supportive housing programs.
In Rhode Island, We Know How to End Homelessness
Rhode Island is a small state with a lot of knowledgeable people working to end homelessness.
For most individuals and families, the costs of re-housing and providing the services they need to stay housed are considerably less that sheltering them. For the 240 chronically homeless people enumerated in last January’s Rhode Island PIT count, supportive housing and services will help them a lot more than sheltering (and sometimes feeding them) night after night, which may be all that can be done when federal and state funding goes away.
Besides knowing how to end homelessness, we also know that there is a right thing to do, and we should invest our money, knowledge and expertise in housing and services that will end homelessness in our state.
We Have to Stay Focused on Housing
The PIT counts are numbers. But those numbers represent a wide variety of people without homes—families, individuals, veterans, elders, children, homeless youth, domestic violence survivors.
Over and over, we witness the powerful positive intervention of housing solutions, which end homelessness permanently and cost far less than subsidizing homelessness and its related costs of emergency medical care, incarceration for petty crimes or unpaid fines, institutionalization for mental health and other issues that disproportionately affect people experiencing homelessness.
Housing is the only solution to homelessness.