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U.S. homelessness dips for 7th straight year, new report says

Kevin, a homeless veteran from the Ronkonkoma area,

Kevin, a homeless veteran from the Ronkonkoma area, stands next to his bicycle at a gas station in Ronkonkoma on Nov. 17, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

The number of homeless people in the United States fell for the seventh year in a row, according to a report released Thursday.

An annual count on a single night across the country last January found 549,928 people who were homeless, including 3,960 on Long Island and 73,523 in New York City, according to the 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report. The national number was down 3 percent overall from 2015, but those in unsheltered locations, about a third of the total, increased slightly.

Long Island’s total homeless population ranked third — behind only Honolulu and Santa Ana/Anaheim/Orange County, California, — in the category of small cities, counties and regional areas.

Greta Guarton, executive director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, one of the agencies involved in the annual count, said that Long Island’s numbers reflected its large and dense population. “I think the bigger issue is — have our numbers gone up or down and our overall numbers went up slightly from 2015 to 2016. It’s 3,960 in 2016, and the year before was 3,860.”

She added that while “not good, it’s not a huge jump.”

U.S. officials overseeing the annual assessment called for a continued commitment to reducing homelessness as the new administration of President-elect Donald Trump takes shape.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, citing challenges despite overall progress such as a 47 percent reduction in the number of homeless veterans between 2010 and 2016. “Some communities are reporting little to no progress.”

Matthew Doherty, of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelssessness, added, “It’s clear that the arrows are pointing in the right direction but ... we can and must do better.”

The surveys are part of the Obama administration’s Opening Doors plan, which since 2010 has set goals and strategies in collaboration with local governments and agencies to end and prevent homelessness.

This year, Long Island’s 2,884 people in homeless families with children led in its category of small cities, counties and regions, which overall saw a 9 percent drop in homeless family members. Guarton said that families account for a large percentage of the homeless in suburban areas.

Nationally, that number fell by 3 percent in major cities, with New York City, which had experienced one of the largest gains between 2014 and 2015, charting one of the largest one -year drops between 2015 and 2016.

The number of unsheltered homeless people rose slightly nationally and on Long Island, where the number was 113 in January, compared to 64 counted the year before.

Guarton said the numbers reflected her agency’s greater focus on year-round outreach, and reflects “us doing a better job of identifying and engaging people.”

In September, Brookhaven destroyed an encampment of homeless people living in the woods in Coram. Guarton said some of those displaced were in emergency shelters and that her agency was working with others to obtain housing.

Among major cities, New York City was second only to Los Angeles in the number of homeless unaccompanied children and youth, with 1,805 counted on one night in January, while Long Island’s 203 was ninth out of the top 10 in its category of small cities, counties and regional areas.

With some urban areas along the West Coast experiencing spikes in homelessness, the federal officials said rising housing costs as well as the effects of the opioid epidemic could be contributing factors.

“It’s especially true for families on Long Island that their reason for homelessness is their inability to afford the cost of housing here,” Guarton said.

“The solution to homelessness is permanent affordable housing, she added, noting much of the funding to provide that housing comes through HUD. “And any cuts to HUD funding leads directly to more homelessness.


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