Close to 6,000 people in Erie County were homeless at some point in 2013 and almost 30 percent of them were children, according to the latest report from the Homeless Alliance of Western New York. Of 5,754 people who were homeless for a period of time last year, more than 2,000 were part of a family, and most of those families – 73 percent – were headed by a single mother. Of 1,024 homeless children, almost 400 were age 5 or younger.
In many cases, the women had experienced a traumatic event that contributed to their situation – abuse, serious illness or a significant mental health issue.
Overall, the Homeless Alliance counted 221 more people among the homeless last year than in 2012, with 246 of them considered chronically homeless. While the increase was not good news, it is better than the statewide figures, which reveal a 17 percent increase in the number of homeless families, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Also, county social service agencies succeed in providing emergency shelter for families so they are not left to fend for themselves.
The number of chronically homeless people would be higher without the efforts of local agencies. As part of the national “100,000 Homes Campaign,” nearly 300 chronically homeless in Erie County have found housing. That makes the county one of 57 communities in the country on track to end chronic homelessness in their areas within three years, according to the campaign.
The local report noted that while the number of homeless veterans increased by 25 percent to 257 – 41 of them women – there is now more help available with the opening of the Veterans One-Stop Center at 1280 Main St. The expectation is that more veterans will be able to transition from emergency housing to a permanent residence.
The Homeless Alliance seeks temporary shelter for the homeless while working with them individually to stabilize their lives and finances so they have a permanent place to call home. Most people in emergency shelters are there for less than a month.
“The answer to homelessness is not complicated,” Homeless Alliance Executive Director Dale Zuchlewski said in a release. “People need affordable housing. There are too many single mothers living in poverty, on the edge of experiencing homelessness, many of whom are victims of domestic violence and other severe traumatic experience.”He cited the impact homelessness has on children’s ability to succeed in school and, for the adult homeless, the need for single-room housing so they have a safe place to sleep.
The report’s release comes before a roundtable discussion on family homelessness being sponsored by the Wilson Foundation from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Salvation Army Community Center, 960 Main St. The Homeless Alliance, Daemen College, the Salvation Army and the National Center on Family Homelessness are participating.