In 3 years, Louisville homeless down 23%

Participants in the annual Homeless Count event listenParticipants in the annual Homeless Count event listen during training Tuesday evening at the Louisville Hotel. Over 300 signed up for this year's event, continuing a trend of increased participation from the community. Jan. 27, 2016 Alton Strupp/The Courier-Journal

By Lexy Gross

Louisville's Coalition for the Homeless announced Monday that the overall number of homeless people in the city has dropped for the third year in a row -- but those numbers don't change local agencies' disappointment in the federal government's decision to cut their funds by 11 percent this year.

Both the coalition's 2015 homeless census and the 2016 point-in-time count saw lower overall numbers of homeless Louisvillians. The 2015 census counted 6,737 unduplicated homeless persons compared with 7,697 in 2014 -- or a 12 percent decrease. The point-in-time count, which recruits volunteers to count the homeless on a single night on Louisville streets, as well as a count of people in shelters during that single day, also decreased by 24 percent.

"We know what to do and we are making a difference by working together on the issue of homelessness, but the only way to truly end homelessness is begin to address the community's need for an additional 65,000 affordable housing units, especially for Louisville families experiencing homelessness," Natalie Harris, executive director of the coalition, said in a press release.

Since 2012, the census has shown a 23 percent overall drop in the number of homeless people in Louisville, according to the coalition.On the night of the street count, which saw more than 300 volunteers and warmer temperatures than usual, the coalition saw a 38 percent increase of homeless people living outside. But the shelter count for that day was down 22 percent -- bringing the total number of homeless in a single night in Louisville from 1,466 in 2015 to 1,116 in 2016.

The Coalition for the Homeless attributes the decrease to the successful implementation of the common assessment system, which targets people who have been chronically homeless. The coalition said Monday that helping chronically homeless people access permanent housing first has the greatest impact on the numbers.

Louisville agencies also helped house almost 800 homeless veterans last year.

Earlier this month, coalition leaders decried an 11 percent cut to Louisville's federal allocation to fight homelessness. The money helps fund local agencies that provide transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, case management, and services to specific populations, such as domestic violence victims and people with HIV/AIDS.

The cuts will take effect July 1 and will impact the city's community services department, as well as the Center for Women and Families; Family Health Centers; Home of the Innocents; House of Ruth; St. Vincent de Paul; and Volunteers of America.

Harris said Monday that the cuts will have the biggest affect on homeless families and children, which she said are not a decreasing population in Louisville. Harris said the coalition typically has about 35 families on a wait list for services in Louisville.

And the number of domestic violence victims, as well as homeless individuals with disabilities, also increased in the counts, Harris said.

Organizations that serve these populations will need to find new sources of funding where federal dollars have been cut, and Harris said the coalition is being forced to move funds from other programs -- such as one to fight chronic homelessness -- to cover the gaps.

Jennifer Hancock, president and CEO of Volunteers of America Mid-States, said in a letter to the editor the organization will lose $187,350 that goes toward case management and emergency housing for families.

"Like all agencies impacted by this loss, we are examining our options and evaluating the opportunity to engage our compassionate community in keeping this critical program available to those who need our services," Hancock said in the letter.