Homelessness in North Carolina declined in 2017, according to an annual count. Wake County, however, saw its homeless population increase.
The numbers come from a point-in-time count of homeless people around the state on one night in January and were announced Wednesday. Homelessness in the state declined 6.2 percent from 2016 to 2017, and is down more than 26 percent from 2010.
More homeless people were counted in Wake County this year, with the total increasing about 8 percent to 884.
The state also saw an uptick in homeless veterans, from 888 in 2016 to 931 in 2017. Terry Allebaugh, community impact coordinator with the N.C. Coalition to End Homelessness, said the increase comes from better counting.
“We’re doing a better job at finding folks,” he said.
The reasons for the overall increase in Wake will be familiar to anyone following ongoing discussions about the need for affordable housing. Wake County grows by an average of 64 people per day, and housing in the county is becoming increasingly unaffordable for people with modest incomes.
Wake has done a lot in recent years to help homeless people find housing, said Shana Overdorf, executive director of the Raleigh/Wake County Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness. “Although our numbers have gone up, the work Wake is doing is incredible,” she said.
Each state counts homeless people on one night in January. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports the nationwide snapshot on homelessness to Congress.
The point-in-time count is limited to people who are living in shelters, in transitional housing, or outside. It does not include people who are living long-term in motels, or who are couch-surfing.
“The HUD homeless definition is very narrow, and it’s narrow on purpose, to prioritize people who are the most vulnerable,” said Corey Root, coordinator of the Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness.
By focusing on a narrow group, people who are chronically homeless and have a disability, Orange County has been able to reduce its rate of homelessness by more than 70 percent over a few years, Root said. The county works to get chronically homeless people into supportive housing, she said, where they can have a permanent places to live along with connections to social services.
Allebaugh attributes the overall statewide decline in homelessness to a change in philosophy that emphasizes finding people permanent homes as soon as possible, without having them move first to transitional housing, where they would stay for a few months or a couple of years.
“It’s better for the family to help them get into housing as quickly as possible,” Allebaugh said.