Homelessness declined 3.3 percent in Indiana last year and is down by 18.5 percent since 2010, according to data released this week by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
HUD's yearly homeless assessment report to Congress estimated that 5,258 people were homeless in Indiana. The total included 3,776 individuals, 1,482 people in families with children, 268 unaccompanied youths, 539 military veterans and 428 chronically homeless people.
The numbers are based on “point-in-time counts” made by state and local agencies and volunteers across Indiana on a single night last January – methodology that has been called into question.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty issued a 2017 report contending that HUD underestimates homelessness and presents “a misleading picture of the crisis.”
The National Law Center said HUD relies on “visual street counts” that excludes homeless people who cannot be seen, including those staying in hospitals, jails, the homes of family or friends and other areas than cannot be seen by counters. The center said HUD's methodology is further flawed by variations in guidelines and tally procedures.
The Rev. Donovan Coley, chief executive officer of The Rescue Mission, which operates shelters in Fort Wayne, told The Journal Gazette last month that at least 3,500 people are homeless in the Summit City.
HUD's count “is only a snapshot for those who choose to be counted,” Coley wrote Wednesday in a text message. “The vast majority are 'invisible,' ” he wrote.
Coley added, “The homeless count is HUD's tool to simplify and create some consistency in allocating funds to communities.”
HUD's report stated that 11 percent of Indiana's homeless population lacked suitable shelter, including emergency shelters and transitional housing programs. Nationally, 35 percent of an estimated 552,830 homeless people were unsheltered.
Indiana saw the number of homeless individuals rise by 4.2 percent this year, according to HUD. But the state recorded double-digit declines in the number of families with children experiencing homelessness, veteran homelessness and chronic homelessness among individuals.
“We attribute the continued reduction to coordination both regionally and at the local level on implementing strategies to reduce homelessness,” Brad Meadows, marketing and communications director for the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, said Wednesday in an email.
He said those strategies include increasing housing options for the homeless, finding permanent housing for chronically homeless people and collaborating on the statewide Coordinated Entry System, a process to identify, assess and refer homeless people to housing, shelter and assistance programs.
“While these numbers are encouraging, there is certainly more work to be done to further address homelessness in our state,” Meadows said.
Eight of every 10,000 residents of Indiana experienced homelessness this year, among the lower such rates in the country, HUD said. The agency said 46 of every 10,000 residents of New York and Hawaii experienced homelessness, as did 35 in Oregon and 33 in California.
HUD reported nationwide increases in total homelessness, unsheltered homelessness and chronic homelessness. The agency reported nationwide decreases in homelessness among veterans and families with children.
“Communities across the country are getting better and better at making sure that people exit homelessness quickly through Housing First approaches,” Matthew Doherty, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, said in a release. “We know, however, that a lack of housing that people can afford is the fundamental obstacle to making further progress in many communities.”