In an interview in Governing, Barbara Ritter, project director of Michigan’s Homeless Management Information System, summarized trends in the characteristics of the homeless population in Michigan. These patterns are not unique to Michigan and reflect broader demographic and economic trends–population aging, the sluggish post-recession economy, and increases in PTSD and traumatic brain injury among returning veteran populations–occurring nationwide. Her experiences highlight patterns that may have significant impacts on service providers in the coming years:
There are two patterns going on in homeless data in general. When I looked at my data back in the 90s, I never had seniors. Now 17 percent of our singles are over 55. We have an aging population and a bunch of them are vets. And we also have a cohort of young people that is growing — not as much in my data but around the country — we see people who have not been able to get on the economic escalator at all. And then [in Michigan] we do have the under-30 veterans coming back into shelters and a high, high proportion of those were people with disabilities. If you’ve ever worked with PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] or TBI [Traumatic Brain Injury] folks, having a family hang together with that is extremely difficult. So, it may be that the trajectory of homelessness is sped up for those young people coming back with a disability.
….We look at exit-into-housing as one of our outcome measures. One of the normal features of exit-into-housing is that the younger you are the more likely you are to go back into housing, and that’s because you still have those support systems. They’re not completely fragmented. Your family might be willing to take you back. The older you are in homelessness, the less likely your support systems are in play. What I saw in the veterans data was actually the inverse of that. The youngest were the least likely to exit into housing. And I don’t know that that’s a significant difference because I don’t know if I have a big enough “n” to really draw causal conclusions, but it’s a trend we’re going to monitor.