The number of people in Lexington experiencing homelessness and long-term homelessness is on the decline, according to new numbers released Monday.
In 2014, the total number of people living on the streets and in emergency and other temporary housing in Lexington was 1,453. In 2016, that number dropped to 1,064 people, a 26 percent decrease.
More importantly, the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness has been cut in half within a year. In 2015 there were 199 people who fit the definition of chronically homeless: someone who has spent more than 12 months homeless or has had multiple episodes of homelessness over three years.
In 2016, that number dropped to 98. That data is from the annual point-in-time count done each January that uses volunteers to scout more than 60 different locations to count homeless people in shelters and living outside.
“We can not claim victory but we can claim progress,” said Mayor Jim Gray, who announced the drop in homeless numbers at a news conference at city hall on Monday.
The data shows the city’s funding of homeless programs and affordable housing is making an impact, Gray said.
“We still have much work to do, but Lexington is on the right path to ensure this is a great American city, where everyone can find access to affordable housing and the necessary supports and opportunities to thrive.”
Since 2014, the city has allocated $2 million to an affordable housing fund to keep and build affordable housing units and $750,000 for homeless prevention programs.
Charlie Lanter, the director of the city’s office of homeless prevention and intervention, said a combination of new programs aimed at curbing veteran homelessness, chronic homelessness and money spent on affordable housing is behind the drop. Gray also credited Lanter and the creation of his office for better coordinating the city’s social service providers.
Lanter will celebrate his second anniversary with the city this week.
We still have much work to do, but Lexington is on the right path to ensure this is a great American city, where everyone can find access to affordable housing and the necessary supports and opportunities to thrive.”
Mayor Jim Gray
“We’ve housed approximately 30 people in our housing first program,” Lanter said. Housing first provides housing for chronically homeless people who have not been served through the traditional shelter system. “We have also been focusing on not just getting people off the streets but also out of the shelter. Because we have the affordable housing program, we are starting to get more units and more options” to house people.
The Lexington Housing Authority has also helped with chronic homelessness of veterans by offering vouchers to veterans, which has resulted in a drop in the number of homeless veterans, Lanter said.
In addition to spending money on the housing first program for the chronically homeless, the city has also funded the mental health court, a diversion program for people with mental illness who have been charged with low-level crimes. Many of the people in that program have experienced homelessness and are now in housing and no longer in jail, Lanter said.
In 2014, the number of homeless people in Lexington was 1,452. In 2015, the number was 1,258. In 2014, the number dropped to 1,064.
But the $750,000 has also gone to smaller, innovative programs that are making a dent in the number of people experiencing homelessness in Lexington. The New Life Day Shelter received $10,000 in city homelessness money earlier this year for a deposit and rental assistance program to get people with incomes into apartments and off the street, said Steve Polston, the director of New Life Day Center.
“We recently had a grandmother who had custody of her four grandchildren who were able to get into an apartment,” Polston said. New Life pays the security deposit and/or first month’s rent. “We found that about 40 percent of people (experiencing homelessness) have some kind of income — either they have a job or they receive a disability check but they don’t have enough for a deposit or first month’s rent.”
In just over three months, the program has placed 11 people in apartments. Three more are in the process of getting an apartment, Polston said. The grandmother and her four grandchildren were homeless for two months prior to getting their apartment through New Life.
“We are leveraging private dollars with the city money,” Polston said. “This is an experiment and we want to see if this will work and people can stay housed.”