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Mixed survey numbers paint complex picture of homelessness nationally and locally
new deh homeless story pic 1
The Central Kansas Dream Center Housed om the Daniel Trickey Memorial Lifegiving Center in Great Bend is on the front lines of the homeless problem. Although a survey finds homelessness declining nationally, that may not be the case locally. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Below is the U.S. Housing and Urban Development definition of homelessness:

• Individuals and families who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and includes a subset for an individual who is exiting an institution where he or she resided for 90 days or less and who resided in an emergency shelter or a place not meant for human habitation immediately before entering that institution;

• Individuals and families who will imminently lose their primary nighttime residence;

• Unaccompanied youth and families with children and youth who are defined as homeless under other federal statutes who do not otherwise qualify as homeless under this definition; or

• Individuals and families who are fleeing, or are attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions that relate to violence against the individual or a family member.


Homeless survey findings:

Key findings nationally in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress:

On a single night in January 2015, state and local planning agencies reported the following estimates of homelessness:

• Overall, homelessness has declined by more than 72,000 people since 2010, an 11 percent reduction since the release of Opening Doors. In January 2015, an estimated 564,708 people were homeless on a given night. Most (69 percent) were staying in residential programs for homeless people, and 31 percent were found in unsheltered locations. 

• Veteran homelessness fell by 36 percent between 2010 and January 2015, including a 47 percent decline in unsheltered veterans. On a single night in January 2015, fewer than 48,000 veterans were homeless, and only 34 percent of those were on the street. HUD expects this trend to continue.

• Chronic homelessness among individuals continued to decline. Since 2010, chronic homelessness has declined 22 percent. More than 83,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in January 2015 were reported as chronically homeless.

• There was a five percent reduction in families experiencing homelessness between the 2014 and January 2015. Between 2010 and January 2015, family homelessness declined by 19 percent.

• In January 2015, the estimated number of unaccompanied homeless youth and children was 36,097. 

Read more on homeless data reported on a state and community level.

Key findings in Kansas:

• Overall, homelessness increased by 564 persons or 27.9 percent since 2010. In January 2015, an estimated 2,588 people were homeless on a given night. Most (88.2 percent) were staying in residential programs for homeless people, and 11.8 percent were found in unsheltered locations. 

• Homelessness among Veterans fell by 19.5 percent between 2011 and January 2015. On a single night in January 2015, 311 veterans were homeless and only 11.3 percent of those were on the street. HUD expects this trend to continue.

• Chronic homelessness among individuals continues increase. Since 2010, chronic homelessness increased 56.3 percent. Nearly 13.0 percent of individuals experiencing homelessness in January 2015 were reported as chronically homeless. 

• Local communities reported a 12.4 percent reduction in families experiencing homelessness between the 2014 and January 2015. Since 2010, family homelessness increased by 63.2 percent. 

 On a late January night in southwest Kansas, there were an estimated 108 homeless residents seeking refuge from the cold. They were among 2,588 statewide and 564,708 across the nation.

However, the 2015 census of the homeless taken on a single night in January shows these numbers are starting to decline nationally. The mixed results also draw attention to just how complicated this problem really is.

For example, it may cover those in shelters or temporary housing, but might have missed those sleeping outside, in their cars or in abandoned buildings.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress noted an overall 11 percent decline in the number of persons experiencing homelessness since 2010, including a 26 percent drop in the number of persons living on the streets. In Kansas, though, communities reported that 2,588 persons experienced homelessness, representing a 27.9 percent increase since 2010 when the number of homeless was 2,024.

That was also the year President Obama launched Opening Doors, a strategy to prevent and end homelessness. The goal of the plan is to make homelessness “rare, brief and non-reoccuring,” said HUD statistician Brian Sullivan.

Sullivan did note that year over year, the rate in Kansas fell 7 percent from 2014 to 2015. The 2014 figure was 2,783.

But, “those numbers are very skewed,” said Kimberly Becker of the Central Kansas Dream Center in Great Bend. Her facility is on the front lines of homelessnes locally.

“I think we’re seeing more right now,” she said of the number of homeless individuals in the area.

A complex topic

When looking at the homeless picture in rural Kansas, the image becomes fuzzy, said Cheryl Patrick, executive director of the Kansas Statewide Homeless Coalition, the entity charged with tabulating state numbers. The state is divided by HUD into continuum of care regions, or areas served by multiple agencies that aid the homeless.

There are CoC regions that cover metropolitan areas like Wichita, Lawrence and Kansas City. But, 101 of the 105 counties fall in the Balance of the State CoC which takes in rural Kansas including Barton County.

This is where numbers get murky. The 2015 survey found 1,222 homeless individuals in those 101 counties, the coalition reported.

Patrick said they haven’t homelessness on a county-by-county basis since 2013, when the study tallied 33 homeless residents in Barton County. But she was able to bring the 101-county CoC total a little closer to home.

She said she gathers data from reporting agencies and submits them to HUD on a regional level. There are seven of these and Barton County falls in the 28-county southwest region.

The total for this area was 108.

Nationwide, Veteran homelessness declined 36 percent between 2010 and 2015; family homelessness dropped 19 percent, and chronic homelessness fell 22 percent. Meanwhile in Kansas, Veteran homelessness declined 19.0 percent between (between 2011 and 2015); family homelessness rose 61.2 percent (between 2010 and 2015), and chronic homelessness rose 56.3 percent (between 2010 and 2015).

“This is only a picture of homelessness,” Sullivan said. “But, its a good picture.”

The results are based on HUD’s “point-in-time” estimates, which seek to measure the scope of homelessness on a single night in January each year, Sullivan said. January is picked since colder temperatures lure more of the homeless into shelters where they are easier to count.

“The information is valuable but limited,” he said. “It gets complicated.” 

Factors considered include age, gender, race and if the individual is a veteran or not. Also, they can really only count those in shelters, so those outdoors or staying a relative or friend may fall through the cracks, he said.

“I think the numbers (of those counted) are lower than they really are,” the Dream Center’s Becker said. When the counts are taken, volunteers don’t scour the community to find families sleeping in their cars or huddled in empty buildings.

Becker did said that requests for gasoline assistance have increased. This is in part because for some this is needed to keep their vehicles running so they can stay warm at night.

These folks are reluctant to make their presence know, Becker said. They fear losing their children to the Kansas Department of Children and Families.

Opening doors

“We are doing so much better than we used to do,” Sullivan said of helping the homeless.

The report shows that certain communities are making significant positive progress, while others are struggling in light of the widespread housing affordability crisis, budget shortages, or slow adoption of best practices.

“The Obama administration has made an historic commitment to effectively end homelessness in this nation,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro. “Together with our partners across the federal government and communities from coast to coast, we have made tremendous progress toward our ambitious goals.”

But much remains to be done, she said. “We have to continue making smart investments in the strategies that work so that everyone has a place to call home.”  

“While we are seeing strong progress in some communities, we also know that we need to accelerate progress in others,” says Matthew Doherty, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. “While communities work hard to use their current resources as efficiently as they can and to implement Housing First practices, we are working to provide the additional Federal investments, included in the FY 2016 budget, that are needed to drive greater progress toward ending homelessness for all Americans.”

“While we see progress, we have more work ahead so long as there are Veterans who have served our nation without a home,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “We will solve this challenge community by community.”

Since the passage of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act in 1987, HUD has worked with communities to build the capacity of homeless programs across the country. By targeting investments to individuals and families who need assistance most – those on the street the longest, or with the greatest barriers to housing – HUD is is trying to use resources as effectively and efficiently as possible. 

Despite increased requests in the budget each year, HUD homeless assistance funding from Congress has not kept pace with need, Castro said. This has resulted in only a small decrease in the number of persons experiencing chronic homelessness between 2014 and 2015. In the meantime, HUD continues to encourage communities to target resources, prioritize assistance, and invest in programs with proven track records.

HUD is also working with communities to improve collection to better understand the size and scope of homelessness, including efforts like youth engagement and collaboration with schools and other youth-serving systems. In addition, HUD is in the process of improving and updating its year-long data collection on youth, and now also includes data from the U.S. Department of Education and American Housing Survey in its Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.


Every year in late January, volunteers across the nation conduct a count of their local sheltered and unsheltered homeless populations. These one-night “snapshot” counts are then reported to HUD. This data is crucial in understanding the scope of homelessness and measuring progress in reducing it. The point-in-time count only captures those persons sleeping in sheltered and unsheltered locations on the night of the count but is not reflective of who is eligible for HUD’s homeless assistance grants programs.