The number of chronic homeless people in Asheville is down 25 percent from the last year, according to figures from the city of Asheville and Buncombe County. However, perhaps driven by the state of the economy, the overall number of homeless rose by 5 percent. The area may get some federal stimulus money to combat the problem.
According to a recent count, there are approximately 555 homeless people in the area, with 115 chronically homeless. The numbers come from the annual Point in Time Homeless Count, completed by the city and county on Jan. 28 and supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The decline in the number of chronic homeless stems from actions taken as part the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, a joint effort by the city, county and local nonprofits that has placed 231 homeless people — including about 100 chronically homeless — in permanent housing, according to plan Director Amy Sawyer.
“That’s a major priority for us: getting them off the streets,” Sawyer said, attributing much of the success to the plan’s Housing Support Team, which was one of three such efforts in the state to get about $300,000 over two years in an effort to pursue a “housing first” model aimed at ending the chronically homeless problem.
The formerly chronically homeless that now have housing include 20 families and 31 children, according to the new figures.
The support team may receive a further boost this year, as Sawyer told Xpress that she’d recently been notified that about $500,000 in federal grants from the recently passed economic-stimulus package is designated to help with the homelessness problem in Asheville, especially in preventing the already poor from becoming homeless.
But where is the overall increase in the homeless numbers coming from?
“I don’t know,” Sawyer said. “Anecdotally, we’ve had a lot more requests for assistance with food, for help paying rent and utility costs so they don’t become homeless. A lot of the working poor are really being hit hard right now.”
She added that she hopes to eventually have all agencies in the area participate in the Homeless Management Information System to more accurately track and count the homeless population. That process is moving along, with a release from the plan’s officials noting that this year, 48 percent of the homeless counted were recorded in HMIS, while in 2008, only 12 percent were in the system.
— David Forbes, staff writer