Despite 2018 boasting one of the strongest U.S. economies in decades, the number of homeless individuals remained largely unchanged, according to the latest national estimates by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
HUD's Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress found 552,830 people experienced homelessness on a single night in 2018. That is an increase of 0.3 percent since last year.
In Wisconsin, an estimated 4,907 people are homeless - 92 percent of which are in a shelter - according to the report. That is a 2.4 percent decrease from 2017. The number of homeless individuals is down in Wisconsin 22.5 percent from 2010, according to HUD's snapshot report.
But the report is just that, a snapshot, says Joseph Volk, executive director with the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness.
"It's very hard to glean clear trends from the HUD point in time data," Volk said. "Twice a year, volunteers go out and count homeless people. It is easy to count transitional housing and shelters. It is hard to count the people on the streets."
HUD has shifted its funding in recent years from shelters and transitional housing to prioritize permanent housing. Individuals who would have been counted homeless in the past because they were living in transitional housing are no longer counted because they are living in HUD-financed permanent housing, Volk said.
"From and advocacy point of view, I've never given a lot of weight to those snapshot counts," Volk said.
Still, he said the number of homeless people identified by HUD is concerning.
"This is one of the best economies we've had," Volk said. "I would expect homeless numbers to go down quite a bit. In Wisconsin, the numbers have basically remained the same."
According to HUD, there are 2,167 people in families with children who are homeless.
Carrie Poser, director of Wisconsin Balance of State Continuum of Care, says the HUD snapshot data is the only time advocacy groups can get the number of people living in a shelter, living outside and living in domestic violence shelters.
Poser said the most concerning thing for her is the increase in chronic homelessness across the state. In 69 counties, not counting Racine, Milwaukee or Madison counties, there are 285 chronically homeless people. That is up from 232 chronically homeless people last year.
Statewide there are 446 chronically homeless individuals, according to HUD.
Chronically homeless are defined as individuals who have gone without housing for a year straight or multiple times over three years.
"People who are chronically homeless have disabilities as well as have been homeless for a long period of time," Poser said. "(To see) an increase in that number is difficult because they are who we should be seeing an increase in housing options for."
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