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Report: Homeless population drops nationally, but up in New York and on LI

(R-L) Greta Guarton, executive Director of The Long

(R-L) Greta Guarton, executive Director of The Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, talks to Terry C., of Rockville Centre, as she conducts their annual homeless census count on Jan. 22, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

The homeless population dropped 2 percent nationally between 2013 and 2014, but increased in New York State and on Long Island, a new federal report says.

New York was among 14 states and the District of Columbia where the estimated number of homeless people rose, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's nationwide, single-night count of those in residential programs and those outside of shelters.

On Long Island, the homeless population increased slightly during the one-year period, said the executive director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, citing the effects of superstorm Sandy in October 2012 and the region's chronic lack of affordable housing.

HUD's annual assessment report to Congress, released last week, was based on a "point-in-time" count of the nation's homeless population on a single night in January.

This year, it found there were an estimated 578,424 homeless people, with 69 percent of those in residential programs for the homeless and 31 percent "unsheltered," or living on the street.

In 2013, the agency's estimate showed 591,768 were homeless.

The HUD report shows half of the nation's homeless population this year living in five states: California, New York, Florida, Texas and Massachusetts. New York, with an estimated 80,590 homeless people, had the largest increase between 2013 and 2014 -- 3,160 more individuals.

Most of the overall decline nationally was the result of 19,600-plus fewer people living on the street, a 10 percent decrease.

Homeless people using emergency shelters or transitional housing increased by about 2 percent between 2013 and 2014, the report said.

Since 2007, the report said the number of homeless people declined by more than 72,000, or 11 percent.

The January count was conducted by 414 "continuums of care" agencies in localities. HUD uses the data, in part, to distribute grants to counties for affordable housing and programs for the homeless.

Greta Guarton, executive director of the Amityville-based Long Island coalition, said the estimate of the Island's homeless population rose to 3,207 in January from 3,123 in 2013.

In 2007, the count was 2,515.

HUD has directed "significant funding to address the needs of the chronically homeless," she said, with the 35 to 40 agencies in the Long Island continuum receiving $11 million from HUD for homeless programs.

"Our numbers had actually started to decline again prior to Sandy," Guarton said, "and now we saw a spike after Sandy."

Citing the lack of affordable housing as the biggest reason for homelessness on the Island, she said "Sandy only made that much worse" through damage to less-expensive housing in South Shore communities, such as apartments in houses -- "whether legal or not." Rents also were driven up, pricing out some low-income people.

The effort to count the unsheltered homeless population on one night, all across the country, is challenging, Guarton noted.

"We know that the unsheltered portion is significantly undercounted," she said. "First of all, if we don't see them that day, we can't count them, and we can't find every single homeless person in the middle of January who's living on the street."

Guarton added that HUD's definition of homelessness excludes people who are "couch surfing" through reliance on relatives or friends, living with multiple families or living in a mold-filled Sandy-damaged home.

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