Detroit’s focus on permanent supportive housing helps drive down homelessness 15% in past year

May 11th, 2018
Southwest Solutions’ Julie Dressler (right) surveys Gina, who is homeless, during the 2018 Point In Time Count.

Southwest Solutions is the lead agency in a coordinated and concerted effort to address homelessness in Detroit. “Housing First” is a core principle of this effort, which is continuing to make significant progress in reducing homelessness, as results from the latest Point In Time Count clearly show. This is the press release from the City of Detroit on those results.

Detroit’s focus on permanent supportive housing helps drive down homelessness 15% in past year

  • Chronic, unsheltered and veteran homelessness all went down in 2017
  • Shift from transitional housing to permanent supportive housing has proven effective in reducing number of homeless residents
  • City to add 300 more permanent supportive housing units over next 5 years

The number of people in Detroit experiencing homelessness continued a steady decline in 2017, dropping 15% over the previous year. The reduction is credited to the “Housing First” approach to homelessness, which provides permanent supportive housing with wraparound services to ensure success, as opposed to temporary shelter. Detroit added 143 permanent supportive housing units in 2017 and expects to add another 300 over the next five years.

This data comes from the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count of people who were homeless on one night in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park, and is supported by annual data tracked through the Homeless Management System or HMIS.  The PIT count was conducted in late January by a team of 200 volunteers and staff from the cities’ homelessness service providers.

“This sustained reduction in the size of our homeless population is an encouraging sign and suggests that as the city comes back, conditions are improving for our most vulnerable residents. But there’s still more work to be done,” said Arthur Jemison, director of housing and revitalization for the City of Detroit.  “We are going to continue our strategy of moving away from temporary shelter and toward permanent supportive housing to lift more Detroiters out of homelessness.”

All homeless populations experiencing a downward trend

The 2017 PIT count found that 1,769 people were experiencing homelessness in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park, down 15% from last year, when the number was 2,078.   

“Many of Detroit’s homeless service providers and outreach teams have embraced the new emphasis on housing first and permanent housing as a way to end homelessness. The 2018 PIT count is reflective of their hard work. We could not be prouder of their progress,” said Tasha Gray, Executive Director of Continuum of Care.

The chronically homeless population, those who experience homelessness for longer than a year or more than four times over three years also dropped 11% over the last year.

A targeted effort to decrease homelessness among the unsheltered and the chronically homeless through outreach, engagements and pathways to permanent housing that begin in early 2017 yielded the following results when comparing 2017-2018 data:

  • A 28% decrease in the total unsheltered population
  • A 36% decrease in the chronically homeless, unsheltered population
  • Homelessness among veterans decreased by 4% over the last year.

More Permanent Supportive Housing units open and on the way

The decline in those experiencing homelessness reflects efforts by the City of Detroit and the Detroit Continuum of Care to move from programs that manage homelessness, like transitional housing, to those that end it. Permanent supportive housing removes barriers to housing by providing housing first with various social services attached to ensure homeless residents have continued support as they transition to housing.

Detroit added 143 permanent supportive housing units in 2017, which led to the reduction in chronically homeless people. The city plans to invest in building 300 more permanent supportive housing units to address the remaining chronically homeless population as part of Detroit’s Multi-Family Housing Strategy.

This “housing first” oriented approach recognizes that regardless of a household’s barriers, access to permanent supportive housing provides stability to address issues that may have led to homelessness in the first place. Because people in shelter and transitional housing count in the PIT count and residents of supportive housing do not, the changes in the PIT count reflect progress towards permanent supportive housing.

Assessing the homeless population and measuring progress

The City, Detroit Continuum of Care (CoC), and the Homeless Action Network of Detroit (HAND) conducted a one night Point-in-Time count of people who were homeless in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park in late January. The Point-in-Time count (PIT) provides a snapshot of the number of people who were homeless in the community on that one night and provides insight on those in shelters, those unsheltered, those who are veterans and those who are chronically homeless.

The count, conducted under the guidance of the Homeless Action Network of Detroit or HAND, Detroit’s Continuum of Care Lead Agency for homeless services, helps communities create a standard metric for their progress against homelessness. The metric is one driver of the US Housing and Urban Development funding for services for those experiencing homeless. 


2018 Point-in-Time Summary Data  
Sheltered Unsheltered Total Reduction from 2017
Persons in Families 497 4 501 -6%
    Adults in families 168 1 169 -8%
   Children in families (under 18) 329 3 332 -6%
Single Adults (24+) 1003 145 1148 -18%
Youth (18-24) 118 8 116 -11%
Unaccompanied Youth (under 18) 2 3 1 4 -64%
Total 1611 158 1769 -15%
Chronically Homeless3 155 67 222 -11%
Veterans 305 17 322 -4%

Source: HUD Data Exchange, Homeless Action Network of Detroit


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