Homeless Among Us

Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Renewal released its 2023 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, detailing a nationwide 12% increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness over the previous year.

Among the major findings: On a single night in 2023, some 653,104 people were homeless, the highest number reported as experiencing homelessness since HUD’s reporting first began in 2007. And while 59% of these people were homeless in urban areas, 23% were in the suburbs, and 18% in rural areas like the ones we live in.

The HUD report indicates that the overall rise was due to a sharp increase in the number of people who became homeless for the first time during the pandemic and attributes this largely to soaring rents, housing stock shortages, and the winding down of the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan Act, which contained protections against evictions and housing loss.

In the first part of a series exploring rural homelessness beginning this week (see here), Debra Aleksinas examines how this is playing out in our Northwest Connecticut communities. The number of people experiencing homelessness in the Northwest Corner has surged for a second year in a row after a decade of decline, and this number now far exceeds the number of beds available at the only two shelters, one in Torrington, the other in Winsted, that serve this area of the state. Aleksinas notes that The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness has reported that homelessness jumped 39% statewide during the pandemic, and as of the fall of 2023, has risen 13% over the previous year.

Temporary emergency housing centers and shelters provide crucial transitional services, but they are short-term solutions. As The Atlantic Magazine’s staff writer Jerusalem Demsas has argued in her astute reporting on the homelessness crisis, an “obvious” solution is to create enough housing stock at affordable prices to keep people who may be “one paycheck away” from homelessness in their homes, and to create the public/private sector systems that would make this possible.

While the people experiencing homelessness around us are not living in tent cities on the Sharon Green, they are here and need the help and creative support of our community. Homes make working in and belonging to a community possible. Making sure people can afford to have homes makes every community stronger.

As the Northwest CT Community Foundation wrote in its powerful, now almost 13-year-old Plan to End Homelessness in Northwest Connecticut: “No one should experience homelessness. No one should be without a safe, stable place to call home.”

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