(Photo via twitter.com/PHLCityHomeless)
Every January, in the midst of blisteringly low temperatures, the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services (OHS) conducts a point-in-time count of Philly’s homeless population.
Four hundred volunteers — including some who have experienced homelessness in the past — spread throughout the city in teams to talk with people living on the street and record them in a census. It’s meant to be a snapshot of the issue for the purpose of tracking trends and informing city services and policies.
Coordinated by OHS, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, Project HOME and the Veterans Administration Medical Center and held on Jan. 24, this year’s count recorded 1,020 unsheltered adults.
That’s up from 930 in 2017 — a 10 percent increase, though an improvement over 2017’s 32 percent increase from 2016 — and the highest number recorded since OHS launched the annual count. In 2017, there were also 4,737 homeless adults in shelters; the 2018 number was not available on OHS’s website as of Tuesday morning.
“We are moving in the right direction,” said OHS Director Liz Hersh in a release. “We have slowed the train down. It shows that what we are doing is working — we just need to keep it up and expand. The Mayor has proposed additional support for housing first strategies so we anticipate additional progress over the coming year.”
Housing first is the policy of connecting those experiencing homelessness to housing with no barriers to entry, such as sobriety or a commitment to addiction treatment — the reasoning being that having a stable place to sleep will improve a person’s other outcomes.
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According to the city, one “low-barrier homeless respite center” that OHS opened last year at Prevention Point Philadelphia has assisted 160 people, 40 percent of whom then entered housing, addiction treatment or both. Prevention Point serves those living with opioid addiction, a major driver of homelessness in Kensington.
“The success of this low-barrier respite shows us that when we meet people where they are and provide them with what they need, they respond,” said Hersh. “We are finding that making it easy for people to just come in, get regular meals, sleep and care in a safe environment enables and encourages them to start working on the other issues in their lives.”
OHS and Valley Youth House conduct a youth-specific count separately from the point-in-time count and will release those stats later in the year.-30-
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