Today, Pirtle coordinates public education programs for
the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH). He’s one
of the growing number of success stories when it comes to
housing people experiencing homelessness. Organizations
have been fine-tuning their efforts and coalescing around
ideas that work for more and more people. The challenge,
however, is that as people are successfully housed, more
emerge from the shadows.
How many? Too many
On any given night in January 2014, there were 578,424
people without shelter in the United States, according to
the U.S. Housing and Urban Development assessment
based on local “point-in-time” counts. Sixty-nine percent
were in temporary housing; the remaining 31 percent
had no shelter.
The face of homelessness has long changed from that of
the grizzled old man. Children under 18 made up 23
percent of homeless people, 10 percent were 18 to 24
years old and the remaining population was 25 or older.
By HUD’s counts, homelessness declined two percent
between 2013 and 2014 and 11 percent since 2007.
That, however, contradicts what Megan Hustings, NCH’s
interim director, is seeing and hearing.
“Our estimation is that homelessness is and has been getting worse,” she contends. “The trouble is the national
surveys aren’t really complete. So our understanding of
the issue is more anecdotal.”
HUD’s numbers are contrary to data on the ground
in Austin, Texas. “Homelessness is up about 20 percent if you look at the point-in-time count,” reports
Ann Howard, executive director of Ending Community
In Chicago, the Primo Center has seen a steady increase of
families who need housing, roughly 85 percent of which
are headed by a single parent, most often a female, reports
(Photo upper left and lower) National Coalition for the
Homeless speakers shed light on different aspects
of homelessness by sharing their personal stories.
Photos courtesy of National Coalition for the Homeless
(Photo upper right) T. Sanders became a part of the Faces of
Homelessness Speakers Bureau and told her story – a story
about a girl who was born in poverty and found
her way back in and out of homelessness.
Photo by Alessandro Lupo
CEO Christine Achre. The center operates two facilities
with a total of 184 beds and a 12-unit apartment building; it also has access to 100 scattered-site housing units.
People who are homeless fall within several broad categories:
• People who are chronically homeless – These people have been without shelter several times over several
years. They tend to be single adults with medical or
other ongoing challenges, notes Hustings. What works
best for this group are housing-first programs. That’s the
model for L.A. Family Housing. “Housing first means
you eliminate any barriers to entry for someone to move
indoors,” notes Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, the organization’s president and CEO. “You don’t require that people
complete any program before you give them the dignity
to live inside. You recognize that people can address
their physical or mental health needs or the challenges
they’ve been facing successfully only when they have
a stable roof over their head.”
Housing first means you eliminate
any barriers to entry for someone
to move indoors.