Nat Kerman

Around 400 volunteers canvassed Connecticut’s streets early Wednesday morning to conduct the state’s annual Point-in-Time Count — an annual census of people experiencing homelessness in the state, including individuals who are both sheltered and unsheltered on the night of the count.

The count, coordinated by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, is an annual census of people experiencing homelessness in the state — including individuals who are both sheltered and unsheltered on the night of the count.

Point-in-time counts — a requirement for states to receive federal homeless assistance grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — are conducted nationwide during a 10-day span in January. In New Haven, volunteer teams coordinated by CCEH included outreach workers, case managers or others who work in the homeless service system. They canvassed streets and the city’s main warming center to count and, in some cases, interview individuals experiencing homelessness. The required counts help HUD determine how funding is divided up within states and communities, said CCEH’s chief executive officer Richard Cho.

Cho said because the data is “collected in more or less the same way between every community in the country,” it is helpful for not only securing funding, but for tracking changes between communities as well as within them.

Newly inaugurated Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin ’22, who participated in the count in Dixwell, noted the importance of collecting data on homelessness — not just for federal funding purposes but also for community leaders and nonprofit organizations. CCEH will aim to  release the data from this year’s count in mid-May, Cho said.

Homelessness in both New Haven and Connecticut has declined steadily over the last decade, at least partially because Connecticut has invested in a “variety of housing programs,” according to Cho.

Cho noted the advent of coordinated access network systems, which have consolidated and streamlined the system through which housing insecure individuals can access housing resources. Sabin also noted that though housing costs in Connecticut have risen over recent years, they have not done so to the same degree as major cities in other states.

A report released by HUD earlier this month — based on the state’s point-in-time data —showed that between 2018 and 2019, Connecticut had the largest percent decrease in homelessness of any state, with a 24 percent decrease between the years’ counts.

Cho noted, however, that in 2018, the state had experienced an influx of evacuees from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, who were counted — per HUD guidelines — because they were staying in federal shelters. The 24 percent number was therefore “somewhat inflated” due to the one-time spike. Still, Cho said that even without counting hurricane evacuees, the state would have experienced a less than 10 percent decrease. 

Velma George,  New Haven’s coordinator for homelessness, participated in the count on Wednesday morning at the Omega Seventh Day Adventist Church, which serves as a warming center in the winter. She noted that the city has focused in particular in the past year on housing children and families.

George said that she continues to be concerned, however, about a lack of “deeply affordable” housing in New Haven — meaning housing that is affordable to people who make minimum wage, or who live on Social Security, disability or other benefits. Deeply affordable housing, she said, is “key to ending homelessness.”

“With an income of $700, you can’t pay $1,000 rent,” she said.

George said that she hoped to work towards deeply affordable housing this year. The city’s Affordable Housing Task Force, she noted, incorporated deeply affordable housing into its recommendations released last January. The task force recommendations are part of an ongoing city discussion on access to affordable housing in New Haven. And earlier this month, the transition team for newly inaugurated Mayor Justin Elicker released a set of housing recommendations — focusing on access to affordable housing, housing conditions and inclusionary zoning — in the mayor’s transition plan.

More than 40 percent of New Haven’s households are rent-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Talia Soglin | talia.soglin@yale.edu