Lead Letter: Progress Made but Homelessness Challenges Loom

By Ability Housing CEO

Tue, 10 May 2016, 04:07 PM

A new report shows progress and challenges, both nationally and in Florida, in combating homelessness.

Last month, the National Alliance to End Homelessness released “The State of Homelessness in America,” an annual report compiling data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to examine trends in homelessness and at-risk populations.

Nationally, homelessness is down 2 percent from 2014 to 2015; Duval County saw even greater headway with a 9.5 percent decrease in homelessness.

Both nationally and locally, this progress can be attributed to a collective commitment to best practices that focuses on returning people to permanent homes as quickly as possible, then providing supports they may need to maintain that housing.

Most homeless people and families need only short-term assistance to get back on their feet, while others with significant barriers require longer term supports and rental assistance.

HOUSING STRESS

However, the evidence also shows a potential increase in homelessness is looming.

Housing costs are up. Wages are not.

Nationally, the number of poor renter households paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing is 27.7 percent higher than pre-recession rates.

Luckily, Florida has a reduction in these rates; from 2013 to 2014, the number of Floridian households in this category decreased significantly.

But in 2014, our state still had 227,334 severely cost-burdened poor renter households. One missed paycheck or unexpected expense, and these households are at grave risk of homelessness.

We must ask our elected officials and ourselves: What can we do to continue reducing homelessness and ensure our at-risk neighbors have a stable place to live and raise their children?

Federally, officials must increase funding to homeless assistance programs and develop new strategies to make affordable housing accessible to Americans at all points on the economic spectrum.

Locally, Duval County must create quality rental housing that is affordable to all residents and ensure existing subsidized housing provides the quality and safety all of our children deserve.

Ability Housing works to create more equitable access to quality, affordable housing. But we can’t do it alone.

Our local nonprofit partners, elected officials and neighbors need to join us in having an open dialogue on the state of homelessness and affordable housing in Florida, especially in our community.

Only then can we hope to end homelessness in Northeast Florida.

Shannon Nazworth, executive director,

Ability Housing Inc., Jacksonville