Claim: “Currently, there is only ONE individual experiencing chronic homelessness in the Greater New Haven area that has not been matched to a shelter.”
Source: Yale College Council President Saloni Rao’s ’20 Instagram post publicizing her cabinet’s work on Yale-New Haven relations at a “Lunch & Learn” event the YCC co-hosted with the United Way of Greater New Haven to discuss strides in combating homelessness in New Haven (9/28/18).
Since 2011, Connecticut’s governor and General Assembly have invested major funds in affordable housing, dedicating over $1 billion to building over 9,000 affordable housing units with an additional 3,000 under construction and funding in place for another 5,200 as of last year.
These efforts have culminated in the lowest levels of homelessness to date in Connecticut according to the 2017 Point-in-Time Count, a 24 percent drop in total number of homeless individuals since the counts began a decade earlier. On Jan. 12, 2017, Gov. Dannel Malloy declared that “as of the end of 2016, the end of the month of December; every verified, chronically homeless individual in the state of Connecticut had been matched with housing.
But that doesn’t mean that you won’t see people experiencing homelessness on New Haven streets.
The federal definition for “chronic homelessness” sets the standards for qualifying persons as: “either (1) an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more, OR (2) an unaccompanied individual with a disabling condition who has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.”
That means New Haven’s claim of victory against homelessness applies only for a small subset of the overall population — those who have been sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation such as on the streets, under bridges or in abandoned buildings, or living in a homeless emergency shelter for 12 or more months in addition to having been diagnosed by a clinician to have a disabling condition of some kind. According to Margaret LeFever, coordinated access network housing coordinator at United Way of Greater New Haven, in order to be classified as “chronically homeless,” the individual must have a verifiably serious mental illness, diagnosable substance abuse disorder or chronic physical illness or disability.
In reality, the so-called “chronically homeless” represent a small percentage of the total number of people experiencing homelessness. In 2017, when there were zero chronically homeless people in need of housing, data from the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness reveal there were over 3,600 others still homeless in the state. These unmatched individuals either had not been verified by community outreach workers or did not have a qualifying disabling condition that limited their ability to work.
What’s more, data approximating the condition of homelessness regularly fluctuate. Throughout the month of October, the percentage of chronically homeless individuals successfully matched to housing programs ranged from 95 percent as of Oct. 2 to 67 percent by the end of the month. Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness’ “Countdown to End Homelessness” weekly progress report shows that the number of verified chronically homeless individuals bounced around 42, 44, 45 and 48 individuals, but the number of matched persons depends on the number of openings in housing programs. United Way of Greater New Haven, in particular, holds biweekly meetings to match people to openings received from housing providers.
Although the number Rao cited may have been correct in late September, it does not represent the number of chronically homeless today, last week or next month. Moreover, measures of chronic homelessness are extremely limited — they do not describe the experience of homelessness in New Haven holistically or satisfactorily.