The number of people who are homeless is steadily decreasing in the city of Detroit, down 12 percent since last year and 20 percent since 2015. The decrease is the result of a new “housing first” policy, which favors permanent supportive housing over transitional housing. This includes decreases in the number of homeless veterans and those experiencing chronic, or long-term homelessness

The change in homelessness policy began after Mayor Mike Duggan brought together the city’s homelessness support providers following a successful supportive housing approach deployed in a in Lafayette Park in January 2015. The Mayor asked providers including the Homeless Action Network of Detroit (HAND) to work together to reduce the PIT count. The city and the providers have met their goals of reducing homelessness for two consecutive years.

“We’re seeing great progress as we work to end homelessness in Detroit, but there’s still work to be done,” said Mayor Mike Duggan. “Our housing first approach to homelessness has shown clear, positive results and we hope to continue the downward trend by providing permanent supportive housing for our residents who need it most.”

Permanent supportive housing removes barriers to housing by providing housing first with various social services attached to ensure homeless residents have continued support as they transition to housing.

“Years ago, the Neighborhood Service Organization realized that though we were providing great support services for the chronically homeless population, we were also managing homelessness and needed to shift our focus to ending it,” said Executive Director Sheilah Clay. “We began developing permanent supportive housing and have witnessed the sustained transformation of lives through this effort. The 20% reduction in the count comes through the collaborative efforts of many community partners deeply committed to this effort.”

The City, Detroit Continuum of Care (CoC), and the HAND conducted a one night Point-in-Time count of people who were homeless in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park in late January. The Point-in-Time count (PIT) provides a snapshot of the number of people who were homeless in the community on that one night and provides insight on those in shelters, those unsheltered, those who are veterans and those who are chronically homeless.

The count, conducted under the guidance of the Homeless Action Network of Detroit or HAND, and Detroit’s Continuum of Care Lead Agency for homeless services, helps communities create a standard metric for their progress against homelessness. The metric is one driver of the US Housing and Urban Development funding for services for those experiencing homeless.

The decline in those experiencing homelessness reflects efforts by the City of Detroit and the Continuum of Care to move from programs that manage homelessness, like transitional housing, to those that end it. This “housing first” oriented approach recognizes that regardless of a household’s barriers, access to permanent supportive housing provides stability to address issues that may have led to homelessness in the first place. Because people in shelter and transitional housing count in the PIT count and residents of supportive housing do not, the changes in the PIT count reflect progress towards permanent supportive housing.

While the overall number of homeless is down, the number of unsheltered homeless, those living outside of shelters on the street, increased. Recognizing the need to connect those unsheltered downtown with housing, the City partnered with Southwest Counseling Solutions to identify the needs of these individuals and link them to housing using the “housing first” method.

The initial pilot outreach identified about 70 people sleeping on the street downtown. In the last seven months, 32 of these individuals, most who have lived on the street for many years, have obtained permanent housing through outreach support. Starting in January all city-funded outreach programs began a concerted effort to reduce unsheltered homelessness. Based on this effort, a larger decrease in the 2018 PIT numbers is expected.

“There is overwhelming evidence that it takes investments in permanent, subsidized housing, and any necessary mental health and social services, to reduce rates of homelessness,” said Kate Markel, President of the McGregor Fund. The Fund has a long legacy of supporting the basic needs of Detroit’s most vulnerable residents and the organizations who serve them. “We are very encouraged by the trends demonstrated in this data, following significant, collaborative efforts and investments by many to reduce homelessness in Detroit. When our city and non-profit partners work together to help those who have it the hardest, individual lives are changed and we become a more humane community in the process.”

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