BOISE, Idaho — As the Gem State’s population booms, Idahoans statewide are still struggling to keep a roof over their head, the Idaho Press reports.
At least 9,255 Idahoans experienced homelessness in 2019, according to the Idaho Housing and Finance Association’s State of Homelessness report.
This number counts anyone statewide who visited one of Idaho’s seven regional nonprofit managed centers providing homelessness services and told staff at the center they were experiencing homelessness.
A third of those in need were children. Another 38% were disabled, 14% were survivors of domestic violence and 13% were veterans.
Brady Ellis, IHFA’s vice president of housing support programs, said this is the fourth year the organization has prepared a report on homelessness, but the data is collected in a new way this year. Before, IHFA only counted residents who participated in homelessness assistance programs, but in 2019 they counted everyone who visited a regional center and told someone they were experiencing homelessness regardless of whether or not they enrolled in a program.
“We do a lot of promoting around the region to say this is the organization to go to if you’re looking for homelessness resources and as people engage with that nonprofit they’ll do assessments, and in those assessments it will say yes I’m homelessness or I’m unstably housed and we compiled all of that,” Ellis said.
The seven centers are located in Boise, Nampa, Coeur D’Alene, Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Lewiston and Twin Falls. They are all managed by existing nonprofits, like CATCH in Boise and the Salvation Army in Nampa, but the system of having these organizations do centralized data collection for the entire region is newly set up for 2019.
Slightly less than a quarter of those experiencing homelessness in Idaho last year became homeless because of domestic violence or sexual abuse, according to the report. Another 16% were affected by a loss of income or a job.
Homelessness has become a major topic of discussion in Ada County as housing prices have skyrocketed, wages remain flat and new residents are pouring in, but Ellis pointed out that over half of Idahoans homeless residents reside outside of Ada County.
Only 4,001 of the state’s homeless residents lived in Ada County, compared to 5,254 in the six other regions.
“One thing that isn’t even represented here is a lot of places across the state it’s hard to get out and identify these people because they may be in a campground, or in a cave, or in a river bed so it’s really hard to connect with them,” Ellis said. “We do the best we can, but the reality is there’s a lot more people that aren’t represented here.”
Until collecting data from nonprofits became a popular way to track those experiencing homelessness, one of the only ways communities learned about its homeless community was through the federally mandated Point-In-Time count. This is a manual count conducted on a single night in January nationwide where volunteers hit the streets in the early hours of the morning to search for those sleeping unsheltered and ask them demographics questions.
These numbers can fluctuate year to year based on weather, search locations and how many volunteers are on hand to help, so IHFA said the numbers are best used to look at trends over time instead of hard numbers. According to the 2019 report, the number of Idahoans counted sleeping unsheltered through this process increased 29% from 2017 to 2019.
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