OAKLAND, CALIF.—Even as the nation’s homeless population rises, Nan Roman maintains that the goal of eliminating homelessness remains within reach.

However, the battle has gotten tougher this year.

After several years of decline, the homeless population grew as the economy plummeted. The number increased by about 20,000 people from 2008 to 2009. The largest jump was in the number of families, which saw a 4 percent jump.

“You can’t say it’s not discouraging to be walloped by the recession,” said Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH). And, the numbers may grow still.

Because homelessness is a “lagging indicator,” the effects of the bad economy of 2008 and 2009 are not expected to show up until now, she said.

The challenges continue with looming program cuts as federal and state leaders grapple with major budget deficits.

“The bottom line is we are going to have to do more with less,” Roman said in a keynote address to hundreds of housing and services providers attending NAEH’s Conference on Ending Family Homelessness on Feb.10.

Roman’s address laid out today’s grim realities while still encouraging the people on the frontlines of the battle.

She cited how 19 states had declines in their homeless counts despite the troubled economy.

Communities across the nation have also deployed their Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) funds to target the hardest to house or initiate innovative new systems to assist the homeless.

Created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, HPRP provided $1.5 billion to local communities to keep families in their homes or help them find other affordable housing.

Although that funding will end soon, there are opportunities to build on the momentum created by HPRP.

Advocates for the homeless have worked hard to put many new tools in place. Groups should look for openings to collaborate with the mainstream on different programs and must be more strategic, according to Roman.

The industry will also transition to working under the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, which reauthorized the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance program.

 “Homelessness is a solvable problem,” Roman said.