The number of people experiencing homelessness has hit its highest level in more than a decade according to the latest point-in-time count from the Homeless Alliance of Western New York. In years past, the number of homeless individuals ranged between 900 and 1,000. The count of sheltered and unsheltered people was taken on January 25, 2023 and the results showed a total of 1,432 individuals experiencing homelessness.
“It’s not really an urban issue or a rural issue. We find people living everywhere … but this year we see a significant increase,” said Kexin Ma, Homeless Alliance Executive Director.
Kexin explained how the count is not an exact number of unhoused people, but is still very important. The point-in-time report is used to request federal funding for homeless programs and shelters from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“It’s no longer the people who might be on the street who you see daily but they could be your neighbor. They are families, they are children,” Kexin said.
Unfortunately, Hearts for the Homeless® sees this on a regular basis when serving meals with the Hearts Mobile Soup Kitchen. The Hearts Mobile Soup Kitchen serves nutritious meals to men, women and children five nights a week at the downtown Buffalo library. Hearts has seen the number of people served at the Mobile Soup Kitchen increase every month this year.
So why are we having such an increase in homelessness, especially here in Western New York? Kexin explained that the entire Western New York shelter system is full for a couple of reasons.
“People are having a much harder time finding housing and exiting shelter, even ones with [Section 8 affordable housing] vouchers, which means that our system is not moving,” she said.
The Homeless Alliance of Western New York has shared some causes for why the number is high, including an increase in post-pandemic evictions after the state’s postponement was lifted, and the rising cost of rent. According to Zillow rental prices have increased by 16 percent across the Buffalo-Niagara region. These are not personal problems for the struggle, these are circumstances.