SD homelessness drops 12 percent in 2017

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Homelessness is on the decline in South Dakota, but state leaders say the progress isn't enough.

According to a report released this week by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, South Dakota has one of the lowest rates of chronically homeless individuals in the country. Eleven out of every 10,000 people experienced homelessness in 2017, equating to 943 homeless people.

Those statistics show a slight decrease from 2016, dropping 12 percent. But the totals are up 29 percent from 2010, according to the report, while nationally, homelessness in 2017 increased 0.7 percent from the previous year, largely attributed to a jump in unsheltered homelessness in large cities along the west coast. The national homelessness rate has declined 13.1 percent since 2010.

"The fact that so many parts of the country are continuing to reduce homelessness gives us confidence that ... the dedicated efforts of communities to embrace best practices have been working," said Matthew Doherty, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council of Homelessness. "At the same time, we know that some communities are facing challenges that require us to redouble our efforts across all levels of government and the public and private sectors, and we are committed to doing that work."

But the statistics could be misleading, said South Dakota Housing for the Homeless Consortium Continuum of Care Administrator Davis Schofield.

Data is gathered during a "point in time" count, which is conducted on one January day each year. On the day of 2017's count, there was severe winter weather, which could have led to homeless people bunking together and skewing results, Schofield said. The weather also could have hindered volunteers efforts to locate homeless people.

"We try to get that number as accurate as possible, but we take it with a grain of salt," Schofield said. "We hope it improved, but we know we have to be realistic. But, without a doubt, the number of homeless in our state decreased."

To help continue the downward trend, Schofield said the South Dakota Housing for the Homeless Consortium is working to implement a "coordinated entry system" into the homelessness field.

The system, expected to be implemented by January 2018, will have a call-in center for the homeless and some physical access points across the state at which homeless people will answer a survey of sorts and be prioritized based on needs for available housing.

"It's kind of an exciting time in the homelessness industry," Schofield said. "We're going to make a difference."