Tough economic conditions have forced more people into homelessness, according to the latest study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. 

The report finds that conditions worsened among all four economic indicators examined—housing affordability for poor people, unemployment, poor workers’ income, and foreclosure status.

It’s clear that high unemployment and high housing costs are contributing to the rise in homelessness, said Nan Roman, president and CEO of the Alliance, citing a 60 percent jump in unemployed people from 2008 to 2009.

The most recent available data is from the January 2009 point-in-time count, which revealed an estimated 656,129 people experiencing homelessness in the United States and its territories on a given night.

The “State of Homelessness in America” report is the Alliance’s first comprehensive look at the changes that have occurred during the recent recession.

After recent declines, the homeless population grew by about 20,000 people, or 3 percent, from 2008 to 2009, according to the report.

Because homelessness is a “lagging indicator,” meaning it comes after people lose their jobs and do everything they can to hold on to their homes, the concern is that additional increases may be ahead, said Roman.

What may help offset that is recent efforts by the federal government and local partners through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, said Roman.

Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the program provided $1.5 billion to help local communities keep families in their homes.

Odds of becoming homeless

Thirty-one of 50 states and the District of Columbia had increases in their homeless counts.

“On the other side of the coin, there were 19 states where the numbers went down,” said Roman. “What that shows is that the recent strategies to end chronic homelessness and provide permanent supportive housing are helping.”

Although the count for each of the analyzed subpopulations increased, the largest rise occurred among families, which increased by about 3,200, or 4 percent.

While many people may think that homelessness will never happen to them, the study estimates that there’s a pretty fair shot of it happening.

The report gauges that the odds of experiencing homeless in the course of a year are about one in 200 for the general population though the odds vary by economic circumstances. For someone at or below the poverty line, the odds fall to one in 25.

One group at an elevated risk of homelessness is “doubled-up” people, those who are living with friends or family due to economic need. The nation’s doubled-up population increased from 5.4 million in 2008 to 6 million the following year. In Rhode Island, the number increased by 90 percent.

The estimated odds of becoming homeless for a double-up person is about one in 10. For a young adult aging out of foster care, the odds of experiencing homelessness is one in six, estimates the Alliance.

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