The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded nearly $1.5 billion to renew funding to more than 7,100 local homeless programs across the country.

HUD said the funding is $62 million more than last year, the most homeless assistance ever awarded by the department.

The Continuum of Care grants provide permanent and transitional housing to homeless persons as well as services, including job training, health care, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, and child care. The grants are awarded competitively to local programs to meet the needs of their homeless clients.

The funding announcement comes on the heels of HUD reporting its 2011 “point in time” estimate of the number of homeless persons in America.  Approximately 3,000 cities and counties reported 636,000 homeless persons on a single night in January 2011, a 2.1 percent decline from the year before.

HUD said it is renewing Continuum of Care funding to existing local programs as quickly as possible to prevent any interruption in federal assistance. It plans to award funds to new projects in early 2012.