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Lake County study finds homelessness persists

An annual point-in-time survey of homeless people in Lake County turned up 82 people living outdoors. That was fewer than the 90 volunteers who criss-crossed the county looking for people spending winter nights outside.

The count at the end of January showed that the number of homeless identified by volunteer chiefs was almost three times (30) compared to last year. There were 15 unsheltered people living outdoors in 2022.

Consider this a glass-half-full scenario: Lake County’s estimated 2023 total population is 714,351, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This means that 82 homeless people constitute the smallest minority of the county’s residents. We are not dealing with a large homeless population.

As part of the head count, volunteers are handing out bags of toothbrushes, toothpaste, Mylar blankets, gloves and socks to those outside. Some accept gifts; others are too proud to do so.

A light night during the annual headcount may have affected the number of people (mostly men) spending their evenings out. The number may increase after county community development officials complete the annual mission.

Federal definitions of homelessness include unsheltered people, even those living in abandoned buildings, and people who are unhoused when the total is counted. Before the county’s homeless numbers are counted, victims of domestic violence are housed in shelters and those who spend their nights in cars and shelters funded by Lake County PADS will be included.

Public Action to Provide Shelter, a community-based group headquartered in Waukegan, was founded in 1972 to assist the county’s homeless population. It relies on volunteers and federal and state funds to help those without shelter.

The final tally in 2023 was 467 homeless people, including people who were temporarily sheltered, according to county officials. This figure also remains a sizeable minority.

While it is certainly alarming for someone to become homeless in such an affluent county, it could be worse. Much worse.

Lake County’s homeless population is dwarfed by the numbers in Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon and Seattle, where unsheltered people have taken over entire city blocks. Or to Chicago.

Snapshot statewide data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which allocates funds to communities to combat homelessness, shows that 11,950 Illinois residents experienced homelessness on a single night in 2023. This works out to an average of 9.5 homeless people per person. The number increased from 8 in 2019 to 10,000.

Nationwide, HUD estimates that more than 653,104 Americans will be unsheltered in 2023. That’s about 20 per 10,000 people in the U.S., the highest since a snapshot survey in 2007, according to HUD data.

According to HUD, one demographic group experiencing a significant decline in homeless numbers nationwide is military veterans. Veteran homelessness is 52% lower than in 2009, the base year for veteran homelessness.

Despite this, the number of U.S. veterans experiencing homelessness increased by 7% between 2022 and 2023. Last year, 35,574 veterans, or 22 out of every 10,000 veterans, were homeless. There are an estimated 16.5 million U.S. veterans.

While no one in our wealthy county has a reason to be homeless, there are those who have few options. Poverty, rising rents, and a lack of affordable housing are some reasons.

Affordable housing is a problem nationwide, especially on the West Coast, where middle- and low-income households struggle to maintain family housing. Others include job loss, mental health issues, disability and domestic violence.

Then there are deeper reasons. These include the opioid epidemic, drug abuse and alcoholism, according to experts who track homelessness. The COVID-19 epidemic also had negative effects.

Many communities have passed anti-eviction freezes, income protections and expanded shelters during the coronavirus outbreak. With the pandemic seemingly behind us, these actions have become outdated and put individuals and families at risk.

Most of us will never suffer from homelessness, but there are those who will and will experience it in the future through no fault of their own. In this county full of upscale communities, there are programs and funds available for them.

Those on the streets need to take the first steps to end their homeless journey, seek help and find housing. The head counting wheels are turning until a certain point before next winter.

Charles Selle is a former News-Sun reporter, political editor and editor.

selenews@gmail.com.

x @sellenews

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