Against all odds — a souring economy, strained state and city budgets, and an unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent — the Hartford region has continued a successful seven-year effort to reduce the number of the chronically homeless, though short-term homelessness is on the rise.
The number of chronic homeless in Hartford has shrunk by nearly 60 percent since the campaign began, with much of that reduction due to increased affordable housing opportunities, according to an annual homeless report on Hartford and the surrounding 29 towns released Tuesday by the non-profit Journey Home.
In 2004, there were 322 people in Hartford identified as being homeless for longer than a year or having routine occurrences of being homeless compared to 137 people reported in 2010.
Fred Scott, who spent years hopping from shelter to shelter, is one of those people to leave the streets and move into an affordable housing program.
“I remember standing in line all day for that place, thinking to myself, ‘No way am I getting my own place,'” he said.
But Scott was able to land a low-rent apartment and a part-time job providing maintenance for the building. Journey Home reports there are 33,300 households in the Capitol Region that pay more than 30 percent of their income to their housing and are considered vulnerable to homelessness
“There is still a huge demand for affordable housing,” says the report.
Scott said because he was given subsidized rent for a time, he was able to stabilize his life and eventually land a full-time job as a maintenance man and move into a regular, non-subsidized apartment.
“I pay my own bills now. Every month, $836 for rent, no question about it,” he said during his lunch break Monday.
Homeless advocates and city leaders hope the almost 900 other homeless people in the Capitol Region can mirror Scott’s success story.
“We are on track to eradicate chronic homelessness by 2015,” Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said.
Over the last five years, the number of affordable housing units has increased in 26 of the 30 Capitol region towns, netting an additional 6,663 rental and housing units. Supportive and affordable housing programs were largely protected against budget cuts by the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
But that’s not to say the problems are solved.
Despite the gains in shrinking the chronic homeless population, according to the report, short-term homelessness still is on the rise. The overall number of homeless people in the Capitol Region increased from 846 people in 2009 to 875 people in 2010.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported Tuesday there are about 4,300 homeless people in the state and in the last four years that number has remained steady. The problem, homeless advocates reported in February, is that there aren’t enough beds in shelters throughout the state to accommodate them.
Matthew Morgan, executive director of Journey Home, said the affordable housing options are helping keep overall homelessness from following the other economic indicators.
“I would have expected a dramatic increase in homelessness,” Morgan said. “All these programs have helped slow that increase.”
For Scott, his local shelter and programs like Journey Home helped him get into affordable housing and turn his life around.
“It worked out real well for me. I use to live at the shelter, now I pay my own rent and live down the street from the shelter,” he said.