Street Homeless Population is Down, City Says

The number of homeless people living on the streets has gone down from last year, according to figures compiled by the city.

There were 2,648 "unsheltered" homeless individuals living on the streets on January 31, when the survey was conducted, according to the latest Homeless Outreach Population Estimate. The figure is 15 percent lower than in 2010, and 40 percent lower than the 2006 count.

Officials touted the numbers as evidence that city efforts to reduce the street homeless population have been working.

"We think we have a good way to convince people that they should come off the streets, and move into other housing options," said Seth Diamond, commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, adding that a "sustained and relentless outreach is what's responsible for the decline."

Activists were less than convinced, however.

"It's much more likely that they did a 15 percent worse job of counting people than there's been a very meaningful decline in the number of homeless people on the streets," said Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless.

Markee noted that the number of people living in homeless shelters has hit record highs. And he argued that the city survey typically misses a significant portion of the street homeless population, particularly on cold nights, when many individuals may sleep out of view.

"If you talk to folk who operate soup kitchens or food pantries, they're seeing more and more folks coming to them for help," said Markee. "All those kind of indicators point to growing need, they don't point to reductions in the number."