Homelessness in the nation could increase by 5 percent, or 74,000 people, in the next three years without additional intervention, estimates the Homelessness Research Institute at the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH). 

The figure is a conservative estimate and attributed to the lingering bad economy, high unemployment, and links to “deep poverty,” said NAEH President Nan Roman.

The projected increase would be a blow to recent efforts to end homelessness. The homeless population was declining prior to the recession. Even during the recent economic downturn the number of homeless people increased only 2 percent from 2009 to 2010. This was largely due to the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), which assisted 1 million at-risk and homeless people with stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to Roman.

However, the challenge of preventing homelessness looks to increase as this critical intervention goes away. With the $1.5 billion provided to HPRP largely spent, NAEH is calling for the continued investment in homeless programs initiated by the program as well as resources to fully implement the Homeless Emergency and Rapid Transition to Housing Act that was signed in 2009.

The latest data reveals that about 1.6 million people spent at least one night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program between Oct. 1, 2009, and Sept. 30, 2010.

However, it looks like the worst is still yet to come as more Americans struggle. The number of people in poverty has increased to a record 46.2 million, and the poverty rate of 15.1 percent is the highest on record since 1983. Perhaps, the most troubling indicator is the rise in deep poverty, which increased to a record 20.5 million people in 2010. A person or family experiences deep poverty if they are making less than half of the poverty threshold.

“The budget can’t be balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable people,” Roman said, pointing out that if people don’t have stability in housing, they often show up in even more expensive systems like foster care, criminal justice, and emergency rooms.