According to numbers compiled by the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative (ABHI), the population of homeless 18- to 24-year-olds spiked 10 percent in the past year.
“It does seem to be tied to continued depressed economic opportunity, with rents in the Asheville area [continuing] to be above fair-market value [and] difficult to attain,” says Heather Dillashaw, program director. “Ten years ago, a younger adult who didn't have other family support or resources could get a job, even if it was a fairly low-wage job, and still figure out how to make housing work. That's becoming more and more difficult to do.”
Previously, she adds, an 18- to 24-year-old might have been able to afford a room or some cheap rental housing, but not anymore. This trend is happening all across the country, Dillashaw continues, noting that younger adults and families with children are two of the most rapidly increasing members of the homeless population.
As younger millenials came of age when jobs opportunities declined and Asheville’s housing costs rose, she continues, they've had less opportunity to amass savings and connections that might help them weather hard times.
While counting the homeless is always difficult, a 2012 report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that there are more than 150,000 homeless young adults nationwide. In some cases, researchers around the country previously lumped 18- to 24-year-olds in with “youth” but now count them separately due to growing concerns and “so we can get better data,” says Dillashaw.
In previous years, many homeless young adults came from low-income backgrounds, she says, and the current economic environment has made an already precarious situation worse. “People that are on the low-income end — they don't bounce back,” Dillashaw says. “The economy may be improving for some folks, but for low-income folks it has not.”
She continues, “These are folks aging into adulthood out of low-income families that have not been able to bounce back because of the depressed economy, so they're entering adulthood with little or nothing,” she adds. A 10 percent increase in one year is a “pretty big jump,” Dillashaw says.
Launched in 2004, ABHI has housed the vast majority of Asheville's chronic homeless population, she says, mentioning that in a recent presentation to Asheville City Council members about larger economic trends, the end of the economic stimulus and cuts in services all make it hard to help all age groups of homeless people.
Over the past two years, according to ABHI studies, the overall homeless population has ticked steadily upward after a long decline during much of the 2000s, in part due to these factors. “It hasn't been a population we've seen in significant numbers until recently,” Dillashaw says. Now the organization and other agencies are scrambling to adapt. “We're trying to work on better outreach and targeting services.”
“We are definitely seeing an increase,” says Emily Ball, director of community engagement for local nonprofit Homeward Bound. The organization runs the AHOPE shelter and also works with a variety of other nonprofits to coordinate, analyze and deliver services to the homeless population. “What’s happening at the local level is certainly a reflection of a national trend. Asheville’s no exception.” She adds that the trend is exacerbated by the simple lack of enough rooms to go around.
“We’re climbing out of a tough economic climate, and jobs certainly haven’t kept up with housing costs here,” she says. “The average cost of a one-bedroom [apartment] in Buncombe County is $717 a month, [which] poses a major challenge.”
Such costs particularly affect young adults coming out of foster homes: They’re more than 20 times more likely to become homeless than other adults, says Ball. She adds that while ABHI and other organizations have targeted Asheville’s chronically homeless, historically, they haven’t singled out young adults for assistance.
That’s soon to change.
“As a country, we’re really trying to figure out how we can be smart about how to target services for them,” says Ball. “It is a new frontier for us.”
For more information about ABHI, see http://avl.mx/z8. For more information about Homeward Bound, see hbofa.org.