Being a Social Worker in a Time of Social Distancing

By: Tara Ryan-DeDominicis, LCSW 

With 3,446,291 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and 1,092,815 confirmed cases in the United States, I do not think any of us would have believed the statistics we are seeing now even one month ago (Center for Disease Control,  2020). There are currently 123,717 confirmed cases in my home state of New Jersey where I am a social worker in the field of homelessness (CDC, 2020). There are currently 8,864 people in the state of New Jersey who are considered homeless (NJ211, 2020).  Considering the difficulties accessing this population, that number is considered a low estimate by many of us who work in this field. Persons who are homeless are already at greater risk than their non homeless peers for significant health issues including pulmonary disease, respiratory infections, tuberculosis, and HIV (Hwang, 2001). Additionally, before this pandemic, persons who are homeless experience hospitalization five times more than the general community (Hwang, 2001). These medical disparities and lack of general wellness including lack of access to nutritious meals, insufficient sleep and inability to properly social distance (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2020) make for a very at risk population during the time of COVID-19. Even those who are in homeless shelters during this time are unable to properly remain socially distant due to shelter overcrowding and with bunk beds, in many cases less than two feet apart (Jan & Johnson, 2020). In this post I hope to share my first hand perspective as a social worker in homeless services during the time of COVID. 

I am in the field of homelessness and am often a resource to answer questions specifically about unemployment, health insurance and health care, housing assistance etc. Although sometimes difficult, I could always find an answer. Currently, finding answers has become increasingly difficult. Myself and many social workers are facing questions we do not know how to respond to and have been introduced to a problem so large it has changed the systems we once knew how to navigate. “All the shelters are closing their doors, where do I go?” “ I cannot get through to unemployment on the phone, what do I do now?” “ How do I socially distance myself in a tent city?”. These are but a few examples of how the homeless population is struggling with an already limited amount of resources in the face of the pandemic. 

 While I spend my days trying to get my guests the best and most honest answers I can to their questions, I keep glancing at the sticky note I placed on my laptop: “Physically distant. NOT emotionally distant. NOT spiritually distance, NOT compassionately distant.”  In this time of unprecedented uncertainty, I put all my efforts into what I can control for myself and for guests. I am no longer able to offer the warmth and safety of our large dining room, where guests can charge their phones, wash up in the restroom or escape the rain. I am no longer able to offer interactions between our guests and our staff and volunteers who are a source of comfort and socialization while they enjoy a hot meal. During this time of social distancing we are able to provide bagged lunches and groceries to the line of socially distanced individuals standing six feet apart outside our door, as new restrictions prevent guests from entering our facility. My agency was often a place where guests were able to have a hot meal, socialize, and most importantly were offered a break from the elements of living outside–this shift has been an adjustment for our guests, but also the social workers and how we work with them. We are able to provide the meals in white paper bags instead of large blue plates and we are still providing social services via text message or phone call instead of sitting side by side. Both provider and guest have acknowledged that this is not the same. However, despite not being able to be near them, it does not mean we cannot remain close to them.

I am trying to do whatever can be done to maintain connection with my population during this time of crisis–a population already facing loneliness and isolation (Dej, 2016). For me that has ranged from FaceTiming a guest to make sure they are taking their medicine to praying the rosary with a scared guest over the phone. Showing I am still here by putting a cupcake in a guest’s lunch because she is turning thirty years old today with no one to celebrate with and using petty cash to send dog food to a guest who is unable to go to the store for her pet. These attempts to remain connected to my guests on an individual level are in addition to efforts on a larger scale between my agency, the county and other community resources. We all have the same goal  to access testing for the homeless population, locate any available shelter or motel beds and ensure anyone living outside has the supplies they need. In an effort to remain as consistent as possible with services already available to this population, the state of New Jersey has taken measures such as extending all emergency assistance through April 30th, working with shelters to enhance cleaning policies recommended by the CDC and covering all COVID- 19 related services and testing through NJ FamilyCare/Medicaid (N.J.Department of Human Services, 2020).

These times are uncertain and I cannot promise my guests as much as I would like. I am unable to provide our individual mindfulness counseling to our guests who struggle with trauma or our music therapy that so many of our guests look forward to. It takes me longer to navigate the systems that are put in place to assist this population such as benefit enrollment and direct service connection.  I am still searching, researching, and sitting with many questions I hope to be able to answer for them. What I can promise them is that I will be there, I will answer the text, I will pray with them, cry with them, and laugh with them until we are together again. I will advocate to the local government and community for their needs and spend hours on the phone adjusting our systems to allow for easier access and more complete services for all our vulnerable guests. What I can promise is in this time of social distancing, is I will still be there.  


Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the U.S. (2020). Cases in the U.S. Retrieved from

Dej, E. (2016). Psychocentrism and homelessness: The pathologization / responsibilization paradox. Mental Health & Distress as a Social Justice Issue, 10(1), 1-19. 

Hwang,S.W. (2001) Homelessness and health. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 164 (2), 229-233. Retrieved from

Jan, T., & Johnson, J. (2020, April 14). Hotels sit vacant during the pandemic. But some locals don’t want homeless people moving in. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

National Alliance to End Homlessness. (2020). Population At- Risk:Homelessness and the COVID-19 Crisis. Retrieved from

New Jersey Department of Human Services. Press Releases. (2020). NJ Human Services Works to Protect & Help Maintain Continued Benefits for Residents Amid COVID-19 Outbreak. Retrieved from 

NJ211. (2020). Homeless in New Jersey. Retrieved from


Tara Ryan- DeDominicis is a LCSW in New Jersey and a DSW student at Rutgers University.  Tara is the Director of Programs and Services at nourish.NJ and serves on the social work advisory councils for Sacred Heart University and the College of Saint Elizabeth.

Recent Publication: Ryan-DeDominicis, T. A Case Study Using Shame Resilience Theory: Walking Each Other Home. Clin Soc Work J (2020) doi:10.1007/s10615-019-00745-9

Collaborative, Proactive Approaches to Mitigating the Spread of COVID-19 among Individuals Experiencing Homelessness – An Example from the Field

By Courtney Conley, P.h.D.

One of the most feared eventualities of COVID-19 recently became a reality when San Francisco reported on April 11 the novel coronavirus had begun to spread through its homeless population. The institutional living environments which characterize most emergency shelters mean that containing the spread, in the absence of widespread testing, is particularly challenging. Moreover, individuals who are experiencing homelessness maybe some of those at greatest risk of death due to the novel coronavirus as they often have multiple co-morbidities, such as Type II diabetes, hypertension, respiratory illnesses, and obesity and malnutrition, all which compromise the immune system. 

Homeless service providers have long mitigated the risk of infectious diseases in emergency shelter environments through rigorous testing procedures that control the spread of viral infections such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and hepatitis A and C. In the absence of adequate supplies of testing for COVID-19, however, homeless service providers in communities throughout the US were caught scrambling to respond. In further irony, the strategy of social distancing means that individuals experiencing homelessness have nearly nowhere to go and their access to opportunities, already limited, have been nearly eliminated. For many, unresolved trauma could mean that the social isolation and psychological stress of the pandemic could further weaken the immune system and physical resilience. In sum, homeless service providers are tasked with flattening the curve in the homeless population, before it even begins.

The City of Knoxville in East Tennessee has demonstrated impressive success in facing these challenges. Responding proactively and in a coordinated manner, Knoxville funded The Guest House in early April as an 18-room COVID-19-dedicated shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness who may test positive for COVID-19. The coordinated, city-wide approach has meant that individuals shelters are not duplicating efforts, and the community is maximizing the efficiency of its housing and funding resources. Moreover, HUD has issued clear guidelines on how to utilize homeless management information systems (HMIS) proactively to track cases, while maintaining client privacy.  The Knoxville-Knox County CoC has long partnered with the Social Work Office of Research and Public Service at the University of Tennessee to operate a robust HMIS with nearly 100% participation among service providers. This proactive coordination enabled the KnoxHMIS staff to swiftly adapt the system as a tool for communication and collaboration among area emergency shelter, street outreach, and healthcare workers to communicate symptomology and testing specific to persons who are experiencing homelessness and may be eligible for The Guest House.  Basic demographic and testing status information are included in the program’s data set.  Along with limited demographic information, there is basic reporting that aids in daily communication of discharge status. This program has locked visibility in KnoxHMIS and is only shared with emergency shelter, street outreach, and participating partner healthcare facilities.  

The nature of public health is that the most successful efforts are often invisible – it’s hard to prove what didn’t happen. Still, if local communities like Knoxville continue their proactive and collaborative efforts, we can limit the spread of COVID-19 in our most vulnerable populations. 

As for homeless research, the time is now for more scenario planning, as well as how to mitigate social isolation among already marginalized communities in the context of a pandemic and widespread social distancing. COVID-19 has revealed just how interconnected humans are across the globe, and how supporting all members of our communities makes us all more resilient, physically, psychologically, and emotionally. 

Author Biography: Dr. Courtney Cronley is an Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville College of Social Work. Her research centers on the impact of trauma in the lives of women experiencing homelessness, health disparities, and changing the built environment to promote better outcomes for individuals experiencing homelessness. She teaches graduate research methods courses and statistics, as well as health policy and social justice.  

Social Workers, COVID-19, and Homelessness

by Stephanie Duncan, LCSW and Jordan Dyett

As Social Workers, we were certainly given one of the most significant tests during Social Work Month worldwide. As we know a pandemic, known as Coronavirus (COVID-19) has hit the streets. While witnessing our streets empty, worldwide Social Workers and others in the helping professions are challenged with serving those who are sick while also keeping in mind our own safety. Social workers generally rely on human contact in order to provide service and assist the most vulnerable population groups – and working remotely is not always an option for all of us.

The media and new federal restrictions of staying indoors may cause fears in many of our clients, particularly children, older adults, people who are homeless,  people with chronic disease and with mental illness. COVID-19 primarily affects older adults and those who have compounding disabilities — characteristics included among the homeless population. Moreover, many individuals who are homeless live in large housing facilities such as congregate shelters, while others live on the streets, making not only this group of people vulnerable to COVID-19, but also others who may be working with or encounter them. Homeless providers worldwide are faced with a unique opportunity to protect the health of this vulnerable population and advocate for all possible measures to do so. 

Preparing for this major outbreak is on the minds of many providers whether they work primarily with people experiencing homelessness who are in a homeless service agency or are within the other larger systems such as hospitals, mental health agencies and substance use clinics. Calculations by the CDC suggest that 2.4 million to 21 million  people worldwide could require hospitalization, with only 925,000 beds available and one tenth for the critically ill (Fink 2020). Large cities in the United States such as Phoenix, Portland, Washington D.C. cities across California, and New York City all have significantly high homeless populations, all of whom are vulnerable to an outbreak (Fuller 2020). In addition, bad health and significant respiratory problems are major factors in contracting COVID-19. Prior to the outbreak, the homeless experienced higher rates of death compared to the general population, in part because of lack of access to sanitation, overcrowded shelters, and chronic illness or respiratory problems  (Boonyaratanakornkit et al, 2019). With such large numbers anticipated of those who will become infected, many providers are not only concerned with the welfare of their clients but also their own. Worldwide, we hear the recommendation of “social distancing” and “work from home.” Yet, it is not always feasible. People experiencing homelessness by definition have nowhere to go, and currently the greater population has been instructed to social distance and stay indoors (Fuller 2020). The other challenge we face as providers is when someone tests positive and has nowhere to go, and hospitals are filling up – -what do we do and where do we send people? 

While our media concentrates on what is unraveling as infections of COVID-19 increase, our national policy has yet to foster another narrative regarding the homeless. In the recent $8.3 billion bill passed by Congress, there were no funds specifically allotted to homelessness — communities may not be able to expand shelter space nor pay for more service providers without additional resources (Kim, 2020).  The homeless have so many competing, unmet needs, making it more difficult for them to contend with this pandemic (Morse, 2020). Alison Eisinger, Executive Director at the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness stated the most pressing issue has always been housing, and this pandemic is shedding light on how this is still the most important need for the homeless. (Morse, 2020). We know prejudices already exist against those experiencing homelessness, and the federal government demonstrates this prejudice by largely ignoring their existence and offering no additional assistance to people living without stable housing. 

As social workers and faculty our jobs are to think outside the box and help those who may need assistance even if we are social distancing while doing so. It is recommended that in larger settings employees work in shifts to decrease the amount of workers when possible or offer remote work. Please continue to educate others surrounding the topic of homelessness and help shift the discourse surrounding this population towards helping the most vulnerable rather than blaming. Please also find a letter in the resources section below from the Coalition of Human Needs to our Senate — this is an example of how to shed positive light and advocate for people experiencing homelessness. Consider being a positive voice on behalf of the homeless, whether it’s sending a letter to the Senate, blog posting or stimulating positive discussion about the needs of people who are homeless in your own community.

Resources (Many of these links contain a long list of resources and materials on the Coronavirus and homelessness for providers):

The Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition will lead recurring national calls on Coronavirus and Homelessness/Housing every Monday at 2:30pmET until Congress includes housing and homelessness resources in the COVID-19 stimulus package. 

National Alliance to End Homelessness is providing resources and updating as they come available on their website:

Yale School of Medicine has created a guide for clinicians working in opioid treatment programs:

The Coalition on Human Needs has written a letter to the Senate addressing this topic:

Novogradic Consulting has a new blog post with policies from state allocating agencies.

Org Code has posted a blog post to stimulate discussion in your local community about COVID-19 and the homeless:


Boonyaratanakornkit, J., Ekici, S., Magaret, A., Gustafson, K., Scott, E., Haglund, M., Kuypers, J., Pergamit, R., Lynch, J., & Chu, H. Y. (2019). Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection in Homeless Populations, Washington, USA. Emerging infectious diseases, 25(7), 1408–1411.

Fink, S. (2020, March 13). The Worst-Case Estimate for U.S. Coronavirus Deaths. Retrieved from

Fuller, T. (March 10, 2020). Coronavirus outbreak has America’s homeless at risk of a disaster. The new york times.  

Kim, C. (2020, March 18). During the Covid-19 pandemic, nowhere is safe for homeless people. Retrieved from

Morse, I. (March, 2020). Homeless amid the coronavirus outbreak. Aljazeera news. retrieved from 

Stephanie Duncan serves as the National Center’s Project Coordinator, Please find a more detailed bio in the Meet our Staff section. She has worked for several years in program evaluation and research, and as well as working as a clinician in homeless service agencies. 

Helping Homeless Through Business Improvement Districts

By Wonhyung Lee, PhD

There are more than 1,000 business improvement districts across the U.S., and the number continues to grow. Business improvement districts, or BIDs, are formed when property or business owners agree to pay and make collective efforts to take care of the area by themselves.

Each BID makes its own decision about how to manage the area through services like street cleaning, security, and marketing. As a result, many cities are now divided up by the boundaries of BIDs and maintained at a district level.

My recent research focused on how BIDs approach homeless populations. Because BIDs typically represent the interests of the business community, BIDs are often understood as forces behind anti-homeless policies.

However, I found that the approaches that BIDs take to deal with homelessness could vastly differ from district to district. In my study in Washington, D.C., I focused on the BIDs that have sought collaborative, long-term approaches toward homelessness, which I categorize into three dimensions.

First, BIDs make excellent advocates for the housing-first policy from an economic and investment point of view for the city. Second, BIDs are naturally positioned to mediate the private and public interests where business owners, residents, activists, and law enforcement officers could share information and work together. Third, BIDs are capable of providing direct services such as street outreach, service referrals, and even job opportunities for homeless populations. These examples show that BIDs can play a different role in addressing homelessness and improve the relationship between the business community and homeless populations

This content is also available in the recent academic minute (1/9/2020). An expanded discussion was aired through UAlbany Podcast: The Changing Role of Business Improvement Districts. The actual study is available in her article (2018): “Downtown Management and Homelessness: The Versatile Roles of Business Improvement Districts.” Journal of Place Management and Development 11 (4): 411-427. 

–Dr. Wonhyung Lee is a Professor at one of our partner schools, the School of Social Welfare at the State University of New York at Albany. She holds a Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Planning and an MSW in Social Work. With these, she takes an interdisciplinary approach to her research. Dr. Lee’s research centers around community development and engagement, with a specific interest in the process of neighborhood revitalization in disadvantaged communities.   Dr. Lee is currently co-leading an NSF-funded project on Smart and Connected Communities with a goal of developing a technology that can improve the communication between service-seekers and service-providers.  

EmBRACE the Journey

By: SUE IRWIN, MA (Education), PGCE, BSc (Physics – Hons) 

Within the UK and across the World more people are becoming aware of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), how common they are and the impact they can have on behaviour and health. So many people have been able to resonate with the subject within their own lives, whether that is on a personal or professional level or both. Having this realisation and an awareness of ACEs is important, but this is just the starting point. As a society it is paramount that we weave the ACEs science through our communities, address the impact of ACEs and understand how to make the necessary changes needed. However, it is evident from the question ‘how do we take the research and put it into practice?’, which I am very often asked, people do not always know how to do this. In response to the emerging evidence on ACEs, and to address such a poignant question, I founded a new and dynamic cultural change and  

leadership programme. Initially focussed within an educational setting, the programme has evolved to enable multi-agency programmes to adopt the approach and become Trauma-Informed. The cultural change programme is called ‘Emotionally and Brain Resilient to Adverse Childhood Experiences’, or EmBRACE for short. The strength of EmBRACE is that it is implemented over a period of time to embed and consider how the organisation becomes ACE Aware and ACE and Trauma Informed. EmBRACE also challenges resistance to change and recognises that each establishment is different. To achieve this various change management tools are implemented.

The use of language and buy in from staff have been two critical components which have provided the foundations for cultural change within the organisations I have worked with. Staff need to be given the time and: supported with their thinking; opportunities to reflect. Subsequently, they have been able to recognise that EmBRACE is not an initiative and identify already trauma informed good practice, which is empowering for practitioners. Staff need to feel confident with the trauma informed language and any new practices they may implement. Building this into procedures and policies must be addressed and led by the senior management team to ensure capacity building and sustainability. 

Inspire Blackburn with Darwen (BwD), UK is an integrated Prevention and Drug Recovery Service. As an organisation they recognised the prevalence of ACEs for clients/service users and wanted to explore how they could make the necessary changes to become ACE and Trauma Informed to support further their service users. Subsequently, I was commissioned to work with them to implement EmBRACE. Recovery Support Coordinator from Inspire (BwD), and now lead ACE Champion, James Houghton, also recognised ‘There are reasons underpinning peoples’ negative behaviours, which are because of something else. All services e.g. substance mis-use, social services, dealing with depression, in general, are geared up to manage the symptoms. A high percentage of the causes and conditions of negative behaviours are based in the person’s thinking, often being that they have a negative perception of life in general, including the perception they have of themselves. This can lead to a manifestation of not only ACEs but adversity in adulthood too, which can come in various forms. The common denominator is perception and how this manifests within the thought process e.g. “I’m not as good” or “I’ll never be able to achieve what they have” The negative thoughts are then displayed in the behaviour. As a result of this, someone won’t then engage in activities they want to go to or apply for a job etc. For society in general, these negative thought patterns don’t manifest into something major. However, for the extremes, which are a minority of society, there are organisations like Inspire who deal with them. Because of an adverse experience people find coping strategies and display a variety of behaviours. The more adversity somebody experiences, the more susceptible they become to more negative behaviours. When this happens, what people do is mummify themselves. They protect themselves with a ‘bandage’ which enables them to manage, a process which will have no doubt taken years for them to do. Then as ‘Services’ we unwrap them without dealing with the issues as to why they are doing this’.  

A number of key components when supporting Inspire (BwD) with their Trauma Informed Journey was for them as an organisation to strategically: realise the science and impact of ACEs; know how to weave this into practice, procedures and policies.

Working with James Houghton, these key components have been addressed through the delivery of the EmBRACE Workshops, which have also provided a platform for clients to reflect through an ACE lens. Below are the aims and objectives for the EmBRACE Workshops:

  • show how identifying causes and conditions of negative behaviours opposed to finding solutions to address the by-product of those. This has provided clients with the ownership and confidence to have control of their own recovery
  • Explain the brain’s structure and operation so that clients can relate to this within their own life
  • Provide opportunity for discussion and examples of how thoughts, feelings, behaviours and consequences can dictate decision made/choices which ultimately affect behaviours 
  • Provide opportunities for reflections so that breaking the cycle can be achieved and managed by the client during recovery
  • To educate around the physical health complications trauma can cause

The quotes below demonstrate the impact the EmBRACE Workshops have had on the clients/service users and the significance of understanding about ACEs, particularly in relation to their own lives and behaviours, breaking the cycle and looking at addiction from a different perspective: 

‘I found the subject matter really interesting and a new way to look at addiction’

 ‘The workshops have helped me understand a lot about ACEs and helped put things into perspective’

 ‘ACEs are a major key part of the recovery process’ which highlights the need for ACE and Trauma Informed Practice to be an integral part of the culture within the organisation rather than a bolt on.

‘Understanding about ACEs has impacted on my decision making as well. My whole thought process on making a decision has been influenced through an ACE Lens. It has helped me to rationalise my thoughts rather than act on impulse’.

‘The focus in service has really shifted with the ACEs definitely’.

 ‘Being ACE Aware has affected more than just me. I have been able to reflect on the fact that my own children will have ACEs and how to address this. Breaking the Cycle has been a big part of this. The relationship with my siblings and mum has improved (now reconciled). In addition to this other people have cascaded their knowledge about ACEs which is a fantastic testament to the ACEs movement’.

James Houghton stresses “The EmBRACE Workshops explain that you have a drug solution, you don’t have a drug problem”. Looking at the bigger picture, James continues “Street homelessness is a big by-product of substance mis-use. The negative thought process of ‘I’m ok on the streets’ becomes part of someone’s belief system. People in this situation can’t function in society. Paying the bills or caring for their children is of secondary importance. The brain overrides this”. He nicely summarises “EmBRACE Workshops look at the root cause and are set up to educate around this. EmBRACE empowers the person to take responsibilitywhich is a fantastic testament to the ACEs movement and a key part of Cultural Change through an ACE Lens.

—Sue Irwin is a very experienced consultant, with over 24 years in education and learning. As a national lead in England, UK, on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and founder of EmBRACE, Sue effectively leads other professionals to reflect and develop their practice, provide change management through an ACE Lens and build trauma-informed cultures. 

Research Round-Up: The Latest in Homelessness Scholarship

This blog post features 10 recently published, peer-reviewed journal articles on homelessness – some written by faculty from our partner schools. These publications cover a range of topics related to homeless youth and adults, permanent supportive housing, homeless service provision, and service learning. Consider adding one of these to your course syllabi next semester or citing one in your next article. And, if you’re looking for additional readings to include in your classes, check out our curriculum resource page.

  1. Aparicio, E. M., Birmingham, A., Rodrigues, E. N., & Houser, C. (2019). Dual experiences of teenage parenting and homelessness among Native Hawaiian youth: A critical interpretive phenomenological analysis. Child and Family Social Work, 24(2), 330-339. Read more here.
  2. Byrne, T., Montgomery, A. E., & Fargo, J. D. (2019). Predictive modeling of housing instability and homelessness in the Veterans Health Administration. Health Services Research, 54(1), 75-85. Read more here.
  3. De Marco, A. C., & Kretzschmar, J. (2019). The impact of cocurricular community service on student learning perceptions of poverty and homelessness. Journal of Poverty, 23(1), 21-43. Read more here.
  4. Burns, V. F., & Sussman, T. (2019). Homeless for the first time in later life: Uncovering more than one pathway. Gerontologist, 59(2), 251-259. Read more here.
  5. Lee, W., & Ferguson, K. M. (2019). The role of local businesses in addressing multidimensional needs of homeless populations. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 29(3), 398-402. Read more here.
  6. Marie, D. S., Gallardo, K. R., Narendorf, S., Petering, R., Barman-Adhikari, A., Flash, C., Hsun-Ta, H., Shelton, J., Ferguson, K., & Bender, K. (2019). Implications for PeEP uptake in young adults experiencing homelessness: A mixed methods study. AIDS Education and Prevention, 31(1), 63-81. Read more here.
  7. Metzger, M. W., Bender, A., Flowers, A., Murugan, V., & Ravindranath, D. (2019). Step by step: Tenant accounts of securing and maintaining quality housing with a housing choice voucher. Journal of Community Practice, 27(1), 31-44. Read more here.
  8. Waegemakers Schiff, J., & Lane, A. M. (2019). PTSD symptoms, vicarious traumatization, and burnout in front line workers in the homeless sector. Community Mental Health Journal, 55(3), 454-462. Read more here.
  9. Travis, R., Rodwin, A. H., & Allcorn, A. (2019). Hip hop, empowerment, and clinical practice for homeless adults with severe mental illness. Social Work with Groups, 42(2), 83-100. Read more here.
  10. Gwadz, M., Freeman, R., Leonard, N. R., Kutnick, A., Silverman, E., Ritchie, A., Bolas, J., Cleland, C. M., Tabac, L., Hirsch, M., & Powlovich, J. (2019). Understanding organizations serving runaway and homeless youth: A multi-setting, multi-perspective qualitative exploration. Child and Adolescent Social Work, 36(2), 201-217. Read more here.

The 2018 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress

With the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development closed as a result of the current government shutdown, the effects for people experiencing homelessness and people living in government subsidized housing have been far reaching. Communities across the country rely on funds from HUD to provide crucial outreach, emergency shelter, housing, case management, and support services to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The impacts of these efforts can sometimes be hard to see or quantify.

Last month, HUD released the first part of the 2018 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. For those unfamiliar with this report, it’s an annual summary of point-in-time and housing inventory counts conducted during the previous January. It includes national, state, and continuum of care (CoC)-level estimates of homelessness, with specific breakdowns for chronically homeless persons, homeless veterans, and homeless children and youth, as a well as information abocaptureut housing units.

Nearly 553,000 people were homeless on a single night in January of 2018. This number is a very slight (.3%) increase from 2017, and this is the second year in a row that an increase has been observed. Much like the 2% increase between 2016 and 2017, this year’s change was the result of an increase in people living unsheltered in cities across the country. Approximately 35% of people were living unsheltered, such as on the street, in abandoned buildings, or in other places not meant for human habitation. The states with the highest rates of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness were California, Oregon, Nevada, Hawaii, and Washington. The number of people experiencing chronic homelessness also increased slightly between 2017 and 2018.

Of the roughly 553,000 people experiencing homelessness captured in last year’s point-in-time counts, more than 36,000 were unaccompanied youth (individuals under the age of 25). Compared to the overall homeless population and compared to homeless single adults, unaccompanied homeless youth were more likely to be living unsheltered – just over half (51%) of youth were unsheltered. States with the highest rates of homeless youth were Nevada, California, Hawaii, Washington, and Oregon. In general, CoCs are new to the process of conducting point-in-time counts of unaccompanied homeless youth, which can require innovative approaches to ensure estimates are as accurate as possible. The Voices of Youth Count project offers some guidance for youth count methods and has published a series of briefs from their own study of the prevalence and characteristics of homeless youth across the country.

Overall, homelessness has declined by more than 84,000 people since 2010, a 13% reduction. In fact, family homelessness has declined by 23% since 2007, chronic homelessness has declined by 26% since 2017, and veteran homelessness has declined by 48% since 2009. States that have seen the largest decreases in homelessness between 2007 and 2018 are Florida, Texas, Georgia, California, and New Jersey.

While the increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness over the past two years is relatively small, it’s worth paying attention to as an indicator of what may be a gradual reversal of the positive trends of the last decade. Perhaps it is a clarion call to the federal government and local jurisdictions to take action to prevent larger upticks in years to come. Further, the fact that the increase continues to be entirely driven by more individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness in cities, rather than being evenly spread across groups and homeless experiences, suggests there are distinct place-based factors at play in urban areas, including a widespread lack of affordable housing and inadequate emergency shelter in urban areas. More than 50% of unsheltered people were living in CoCs that encompass the nation’s 50 largest cities. The states that saw the largest increases in homelessness between 2017 and 2018 were Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Washington, and Arizona.

While the point-in-time count data upon which the AHAR is based likely under-counts the actual number of people experiencing homelessness, the report is a useful tool for framing homelessness at the national, state, and local levels. It’s a valuable resource for community agencies, researchers, and academics for writing grant applications, advocating for funding or programmatic changes, and providing background for research and evaluation write-ups.

Communities across the country are conducting their overall and youth counts this month, with the help of a range of community partners and volunteers. The data from these counts will be the basis for the 2019 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress.

Blog Post Author: Amanda Aykanian, MA, Research and Project Lead at the National Center for Excellence in Homeless Services