City census finds a rise in homeless population

10 percent increase seen since 2003

affordable housing is `No. 1 need'

June 13, 2005|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

The typical homeless person in Baltimore is an African-American man in his early 40s who has been on the streets for less than a year and lives on an average monthly income of $400, according to census results scheduled for release today by the city's homeless services office.

The 2005 homeless census was taken on a snowy day at the end of January. The results are not surprising - homelessness is up 10 percent from 2,681 to 2,943 since the first survey in 2003 - but they help to explain why people are homeless, said Laura Gillis, president of Baltimore Homeless Services Inc., a nonprofit arm of the city Health Department.

"This gives us a pretty good picture of the need," Gillis said last week, a few days before she officially released the census, which will be sent to Mayor Martin O'Malley, the City Council and other elected officials as well as to dozens of service providers.

Gillis said she will use the census results to apply for federal funding to pay for shelters and soup kitchens.

She estimates that as many as 7,000 people are homeless in the city over the course of a year. The numbers vary because some people cycle in and out of housing from month to month. The census did not count people who are living with relatives or friends but have no permanent address. If it had, the total number of homeless people would be higher still, Gillis said.

According to the census, men make up 78 percent of the city's homeless population. About 82 percent of homeless people are African-American. About 40 percent of those interviewed said they lack high school diplomas and 59 percent said they had been homeless for less than a year. About 86 percent reported an annual income under the federal poverty level, which is about $10,000 a year.

About 40 percent of people who participated in the census said they were homeless because of a health problem. Many of them said they wanted to find a place to live, and needed help to find job training and employment. Lack of affordable housing was cited most often as an obstacle to getting off the streets, the census showed.

Baltimore has lost more than 3,000 units of public housing in recent years. The waiting list for public housing now exceeds 18,000 households. The list of people trying to get Section 8 housing vouchers - a subsidized housing program that helps poor, elderly and disabled people to rent decent housing - is at 16,000.

"The No. 1 need out there is affordable housing," Gillis said. "Something has got to change."

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