The rate of homelessness in America has fallen from 20 to 19 homeless persons per every 10,000 people, reports the National Alliance to End Homelessness today.

More and better housing solutions are likely factors behind the decline.

“Communities are changing what they do about homelessness,” says Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at the Alliance. “They’re doing more on permanent housing and more housing-oriented solutions. I suspect that has to do with why homelessness is going down even though the economy is still really tough for low-income Americans.”

On a single night in January 2013, 610,042 people were experiencing homelessness, according to the national “point-in-time” count conducted each year. Overall, homelessness declined by 3.7 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to the Alliance’s The State of Homelessness in America report.

Homelessness decreased across every major subpopulation—families (7 percent), chronically homeless individuals (7.3 percent), and veterans (7.3 percent)—even though recovery from the recession has been slow.

At the same time, the number of permanent supportive housing beds increased nationally 3.5 percent to 284,298 between 2012 and 2013.

In its latest report, the Alliance differentiates rapid re-housing from transitional housing for the first time. A baseline of 19,847 units of rapid re-housing was recorded in 2013, representing 2.7 percent of the total bed inventory in the country.

Rapid re-housing has become a major emphasis in communities’ strategies to end homelessness. Originally aimed at helping people experiencing homelessness due to a short-term financial crisis, the program places a priority on moving an individual or family into housing as quickly as possible. Assistance provided under rapid-rehousing is temporary.

This is in contrast to permanent supportive housing, which generally targets homeless individuals who have chronic issues and disabilities and provides permanent housing along with key services.

Although the latest numbers are encouraging, Alliance leaders stress that the number of people at risk of becoming homeless has failed to decline.

“It concerns us that the number of people with characteristics that we think of as risks for homelessness remains very high,” Berg says. “The number of low-income people who are paying more than 50 percent of their income in rent, the number of low-income people who are living doubled up with family and friends, the number of people in poverty, these numbers didn’t go down. They remained at historically high levels.”

If local communities or the federal government were to stop making investments in effective programs, homelessness would get worse quickly, according to Berg.

Other findings in The State of Homelessness in America report include:

  • 31 states saw a decrease in homelessness;
  • The rate of homelessness in individual states ranged from 106 in Washington, D.C.,  to eight in Mississippi;
  • The rate of veteran homelessness fell to 27 homeless veterans per 10,000 veterans in the general population, but the rate in individual states ranged from 28 in Wyoming to 156 in Washington, D.C. Overall, there were 58,063 homeless vets counted in 2013;
  • Unaccompanied homeless youth (46,924) made up almost 8 percent of the overall homeless population; and
  • 92,593 people were considered chronically homeless in 2013.

For more information, visit the Alliance website.

Connect with Donna Kimura, deputy editor of Affordable Housing Finance, on Twitter @DKimura_AHF