According to New Haven’s latest homeless count — perhaps the most extensive to date — an estimated 3,755 people in the city are homeless at some point each year.
Last February the New Haven Continuum of Care, a local interagency group, worked with multiple nonprofit organizations to conduct a comprehensive count of New Haven’s entire homeless population. The count lasted from Feb. 17 to 24 and yielded 1,305 homeless people.
Katie Scrimenti, a member of the Continuum’s homeless count work group, said the average length of homelessness for the people counted was three to four months. Because New Haven’s shelter beds and transitional housing programs are continuously full, Scrimenti said there are three to four times as many homeless people per year as were counted in that one-week period in February.
“For every person that leaves, there’s a person behind them that’s using the [shelter] bed,” said Scrimenti, who is also the director of the Supportive Housing Program.
Scrimenti is currently working on a final report for the count, which she will submit to the Continuum as a public document. She said preliminary calculations have already been sent with grant applications to both the state and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
HUD requires that New Haven count its homeless population for its homeless agencies to receive government funding, which is currently about $2 million for the region.
Of the 1,305 homeless people counted, roughly 18 percent were parents with one or more children, representing about 171 families. About 35 percent were 20 years old or younger, and about 20 percent had some form of employment.
Scrimenti said the count yielded a low number of youths without families, and social workers are still trying to discover why this age group is so difficult to find. In February, the group counted 119 unaccompanied homeless people aged 24 and younger — about 9 percent of the total homeless population. One reason behind the small number of youths might be that they do not trust interviewers, Scrimenti said. She said young people can also rely on informal network support — couch surfing with friends and relatives in many cases — so they do not become visible to social agencies.
Rachel Heerema, executive director of Life Haven, likened the problem of identifying unaccompanied homeless youth with that of finding homeless families because they, too, are usually somewhat successful in getting temporary placement with friends or family members.
“Shelter is the last option for everybody,” Heerema said.
Despite the fact that there may be many uncounted youths and families, Heerema said the count succeeded in reaching out to new areas.
In contrast to previous homeless counts, which were estimates based on service providers’ reports, this last homeless count entailed workers going out into New Haven — under bridges, in the shelters and soup kitchens and on the streets– and actively seeking out homeless people. Heerema said the latest count was more accurate than relying only on provider reports.
“And that’s very clear to both skeptics and friends of homeless advocates,” she said.