County: point-in-time count shows decrease in homelessness

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Rob Henry (left), Administrator for Chester County’s Partnership to End Homelessness, reveals the County’s 2024 Point-In-Time results at this week’s State of Housing Affordability and Homelessness event.

The Chester County Department of Community Development (DCD) and the Chester County Partnership to End Homelessness released the 2024 Point-In-Time (PIT) count results this week at the County’s State of Housing Affordability and Homelessness event.

The results, presented to more than 120 partner organizations and stakeholders, revealed that 213 people were experiencing homelessness in Chester County on the night of January 24, 2024. The PIT count – a manual national census of people experiencing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness on one night in January – showed a significant reduction compared with Chester County’s 2023 results.

Several factors impacted Chester County’s 2024 PIT count decrease. Milder weather meant fewer people were in Code Blue emergency shelters. In addition, two transitional housing organizations, Fresh Start and Veterans Multiservice Center, closed their programs at the end of their lease with the VA Medical Center in Coatesville on March 31, 2023, so the 2024 PIT count did not include these organizations (which added 141 veterans to the 2023 count).

In a joint statement, Chester County Commissioners Josh Maxwell, Marian Moskowitz, and Eric Roe said, “There will always be factors ‘on the night’ that impact the number of homeless people recorded during the PIT count, but the important factor that is steadily reducing the number of those experiencing homelessness is the years of work by DCD and our Partnership to End Homelessness to find ways to not only provide shelter but prevent homelessness in the first place.

“We recognize that homelessness is still an issue for far too many and we will continue to work with our community partners to strengthen their efforts to find affordable homes and keep people in their existing homes.”

In 2022, Chester County became one of 101 communities nationwide to join the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “House America” initiative to promote and commit to build 1,000 affordable housing units over ten years, and rapidly re-house those who are experiencing homelessness.

“We are already one-third of the way to meeting our House America goal, with more than 315 homes built, under construction, or in the planning phase in places like Phoenixville, West Chester, Kennett Square, West Whiteland, Caln Township, Elverson and Willistown Township,” said Dolores Colligan, Director of Chester County’s Department of Community Development.

“Between January 2021 and February 2024, our department administered the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funded through the American Rescue Plan Act, which has helped more than 6,000 households in the past three years to remain housed and avoid conviction.   And the Eviction Prevention Case Resolution Program, coordinated by the Friends Association, provides onsite eviction prevention services in district courts in Coatesville, Downingtown, and West Chester,” noted Colligan.  “This program is a game-changer for many who are facing imminent court eviction.”

According to the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania in an April 2024 report, prior to Chester County’s Eviction Prevention Case Resolution Program, only 22 percent of these cases were withdrawn or settled.  Recent data indicates a significant shift, with nearly 63 percent of eviction cases being withdrawn or settled because of the Eviction Prevention Case Resolution Program.

“Through our collective efforts, DCD and its partners have one commitment and one vision to see everyone in our community safely and stably housed,” added Colligan.

Additional data from Chester County’s 2024 PIT count showed that 62 percent of those experiencing homelessness were people of color, and 30 percent were children. Of the 213 people counted, 19 lived in or slept in places not meant for human habitation.

According to the U.S. Census American Community Survey, in the past five years, Chester County’s median rent has increased by more than 27 percent, and housing prices have increased by over 23 percent.

Rob Henry, Administrator of the Chester County Partnership to End Homelessness, said, “Chester County is very intentional in exploring ways to find people homes, and to do everything possible to keep people in their existing homes. At the heart of this is our connection with like-minded people and organizations who take a holistic approach to addressing the many reasons for homelessness and who combine efforts to find solutions.

“In a county that has the highest housing costs in the region, we have to combine our resources and efforts to help people live in homes that are safe and secure.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires biennial PIT counts of people experiencing homelessness. In Chester County, DCD staff and community volunteers conduct the PIT count annually to understand local homelessness trends better and support efforts to prevent and end homelessness.

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