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HUD, Local Homeless Advocacy Groups Differ On Homelessness Count

Homelessness is dropping in most major Ohio counties, according to a study from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but a local advocacy group doubts the federal govenrment's methodology.

HUD does not count those doubled up in housing and provides a count from just one moment in time, said Molly Martin, communications coordinator with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

HUD’s press release on the study says each year, Continuum of Care volunteers count the homeless on one night in January.

"When you're doing a count like that on any given night, you are counting people that are visible and that totally underestimates the fact that people who are unsheltered, that are experiencing homelesness especially on a cold night in January, are going to be sleeping in abandoned housing, abandoned buildings," Martin said.

Across the state, Ohio counted a total of 10,345 people experiencing homelessness in 2019, according to the HUD count. That’s a slight increase compared to 2018, but about 18 percent lower than in 2010. Most metropolitan areas showed decreases in 2019, including double-digit drops in Cleveland and Youngstown. Cincinnati’s count dipped by nearly 3 percent. But in Columbus, the count of about 1,800 people represents a 5.5 percent increase from the year before.

Despite the improvements locally, Martin said month-by-month trends are a better gauge of homelessness in the community as opposed to a one night count.

"If you really deaggregate that data, you'll look at the improvements that we've made in things such as chronic homelessness and veterans homelessness," Martin said. "But people who are just one paycheck away from being homeless, people at that very thin line between homelessness and poverty are the ones that are really just very close to falling into that crisis.”

The actual number of unsheltered homeless is probably closer to two to 10 times higher than the one-night federal estimates, Martin said.

While the HUD report shows about an 11 percent drop in homelessness for Cuyahoga County between 2018 and 2019, family homelessness has increased by 35 percent in the county over the last three years according to Martin.

"A lot of families couch surf, they move frequently, they might stay in motels," Martin said. "They're not people that you stereotypically think of as experiencing homelessness as being out on the street."

The study showed an 18 percent drop in homelessness in Mahoning County and 7 percent in Summit County, but an 11 percent increase throughout Ohio.

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