FRANKFORT — A housing study released Wednesday showed a 31 percent jump in the number of Kentuckians who say they are on the verge of homelessness.
The study — coordinated by the Kentucky Housing Corporation and the Kentucky Interagency Council on Homelessness and other social service groups — also found a 9 percent increase in the number of homeless in Kentucky in 2010. According to the study, there were 5,999 homeless in 2009 compared to 6,623 people in 2010.
But the study’s sponsors caution that the 2009 numbers were likely low because the homeless survey that year was conducted during a major ice storm. It was difficult to get homeless surveys to people. This year, there was also a 22 percent jump in the number of homeless surveys that were returned, skewing the 2010 numbers.
But the number of people who are close to eviction or who are living with friends or family has increased dramatically over the past two years, the study found.
The survey found 9,883 people were “precariously housed,” which means that they either faced eviction in seven days, were living with friends and family or living in substandard housing. That’s compared to 6,795 in 2009 and 5,262 in 2008. Of the 9,883 who were on the verge of becoming homeless, 87 percent said they were living with family or friends.
The survey was conducted state-wide on Jan. 28. Volunteers went to emergency shelters and also went to other places where the homeless congregate.
Davey King, of the Kentucky Housing Corporation, said the study — which has been conducted every year since 2005 — shows that some of Kentucky’s programs aimed at keeping people from becoming homeless may be working. Those programs include emergency shelters, money for rent and utilities and other programs that keep people in their homes.
Over the past three years, the number of homeless in Kentucky has decreased from a little more than 7,000 in 2008 to 6,623 in 2010, the study found.
In Lexington, the number of homeless has remained about the same over the past three years. In the 2010 survey, approximately 1,551 people said they were homeless in Fayette County.
David Christiansen, director of the Central Kentucky Housing and Homeless Initiative, said in Fayette County there were more people in shelters — possibly due to an increase in beds for the homeless — than those who were living on the street.
“We seem to be doing a little bit better job of getting more people into shelters or other programs,” Christiansen said.
But there was also another disturbing trend surveyors discovered this year — more families who need services.
Christiansen and others cautioned Wednesday that although Kentucky is getting better at assessing the number of homeless, it’s a number that is still widely under counted and under-reported. The number of people who are not living on the street or the shelter but are living with friends or family is likely much greater than the 9,833 that were counted.
“It’s very difficult to find people who are precariously housed,” Christiansen said. “It’s even more difficult to find them than the street homeless.”
Major Debra Ashcraft, associate area coordinator for Central Kentucky Area Services for the Salvation Army, said its emergency shelter for women and children has been at or over capacity most of the year. Moreover, the Salvation Army is seeing more first-time clients, or people who have never received services before.
“I know last month, we had 41 people asking for food for the very fist time,” Ashcraft said. “I think we have a much bigger homeless problem than is reflected in our point-in-time count.”
The state conducts the survey every year as part of its requirements to receive federal funding. The state receives more than $11.3 million in federal funds to help with a host of programs to help those who are either homeless or about to become homeless. That figure does not include funding earmarked for Lexington or Louisville, said King.
“We are trying to show that there is a need for many of these services,” said Charla Jackson Peter, communications director for the Kentucky Housing Corporation. Those services include everything from emergency shelters, to transitional housing to permanent placement.
But King also pointed out that the study shows that homelessness is costing taxpayers money. The study showed that nearly 40 percent of the people who were homeless said they had visited a hospital emergency room in the past 90 days.
“The cost of homelessness is so expensive to the community,” King said, alluding to the fact that emergency room care is the most expensive form of care. A 2008 University of Louisville study found that it cost nearly $89 million over a two-year period to care for 7,000 homeless adults. That study also showed that providing housing to that same population would save taxpayers about $6.4 million.
– Beth Musgrave
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