Graphic of the official HUD seal
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On November 19, the U.S. Department of Housing and Development released the results of the January 2015 point-in-time national homeless estimate. The agency determined that since 2010, there has been an 11 percent reduction since the release of the Obama Administration’s Opening Doors plan to end homelessness.

The agency estimated that on a single night in January 2015, there were about 564,708 people experiencing homelessness. Sixty-nine percent of that number were in residential programs while 31 percent were living unsheltered.

In the five years between 2010 and 2015, the study determined that there has been a huge decrease in veteran homelessness, falling 36 percent. Individual homelessness fell 22 percent and family homelessness fell 19 percent, according to the study.

This progress slowed down between 2014 and 2015, HUD noted.

While progress is being made, there is still a long way to go, according to HUD Secretary Julian Castro.

“Achieving our mission won’t be easy,” Castro said. “If we can accomplish our mission, we can provide Americans with the hope for a future.”

These numbers come from a volunteer force that every January conducts a count of the local homeless population all over the nation. While these numbers are helpful for HUD to determine the scope of homelessness, a lot of people go uncounted.

This data provides ICH, HUD, and partnering agencies a very important benchmark. But it is important to note that this is not the only data that there is out there; this is only a snapshot, according to Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Matthew Doherty.

He urged people to consider other data sets, such as the data gathered by schools and the Department of Education.

There are several problems with the numbers gathered by HUD, according to Director Megan Hustings of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“People who are experiencing homelessness, just by nature of the situation, are sort of hard to track,” Hustings said. “We can’t find everybody; we don’t know where everybody is.”

Hustings said that HUD’s definition of homelessness may leave out individuals who are doubled-up, staying with friends or family, or sleeping in their cars or motels.

The National Coalition for the Homeless worries that the issue will be simplified. According to studies by the Department of Education, there are around 1 to 2 million children that are experiencing homelessness, said Hustings.

“And HUD says around 500,000 children and adults,” said Hustings. “There is something that is not complete here.”

She also said that there are more and more people in encampments across the country, which shows there is not enough viable shelter for everyone who needs it.

“There are some communities where you can’t bring your animal indoors with you. And anyone who has ever owned a pet knows that pets are often times part of our family,” Hustings said. “You don’t just give them up because you lost your home. That is not an option.”

There are also some restrictions on who is allowed into shelters.

“Some family shelters only allow mothers, not fathers. Some shelters that allow couples, you have to be married,” Hustings said. “There are time restrictions. Folks who have work can’t get into the shelter at 5 and may need to stay later than 7 in the morning to get ready for work.”

There are bottom-line issues that the nation needs to face before it can reasonably make homelessness uncommon and as short-lived of an experience as possible. According to Hustings, the minimum wage is one of them.

People need a 15 dollars-an-hour minimum wage to survive and provide for their family. The highest minimum wage in the country is the District’s: 10.50 per hour. According to Hustings, the average age of a minimum wage worker is 35.

“These are people trying to take care of their families,” said Hustings. “Nowhere in the country where you can work 40 hours at minimum wage and be able to afford housing for family.”

Hustings believes that as a nation we have to deal with these issues before we can realistically believe homelessness will end.