Report shows fewer people experiencing homelessness in Nebraska compared to 15 years ago
By Aaron Bonderson , Report for America Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
Dec. 8, 2023, 6 a.m. ·
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December is one of the coldest months of the year. This month can be especially harmful for people experiencing homelessness.
In the last 15 years in Nebraska, homelessness has dropped significantly.
On a given night in 2007, the state’s homeless population was 3,531 people.
In 2022, that total fell to just 2,246 people which is a 36 percent decrease.
The report shows the total number of people without a shelter on a given night dipped by 59 percent. The number of families experiencing homelessness in Nebraska slid by 58 percent.
Individuals saw the least significant change. In the last five years, the amount of individuals experiencing homelessness changed from 1,698 people in 2017 to 1,672 in 2022.
Lee Heflebower, chair of the Nebraska Commission on Housing and Homelessness, said a new strategy to rehouse people streamlined the process and helped curb the issue of homelessness in the state.
“‘Housing first’ recognizes that it's very difficult for people to meet their basic needs until they have safety and stability in housing,” Heflebower said.
Her organization found that connecting people with resources they need after establishing safe housing is the most effective, Heflebower said.
Less stringent requirements to accessing housing assistance programs have also eased the homelessness issue in the state, she said.
Despite the optimistic trends, there are looming concerns about how the growing cost of housing in the state could curtail recent progress.
Jeff Chambers is the Director of the Community Services Division at the Center on Children, Families and the Law at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He said expanded state and federal investment into housing assistance programs led to the positive report for Nebraska.
“There's been significant levels of increased funding for programs for persons experiencing homelessness, including what are called Rapid Rehousing programs,” Chambers said.
However, Chambers said the state’s ability to quickly reduce homelessness plateaued in the last few years.
“I think a lot of that is attributable to just the incredible cost of housing in Nebraska. I mean, Nebraska has a shortage of affordable housing. We have a large shortage of affordable housing,” Chambers said.
Chronic homelessness describes a person who’s homeless for one year, or someone who has been homeless multiple times, according to NAEH.
From 2016 - 2022, chronic homelessness increased in Nebraska from 200 people to 522 people.
Chambers said addressing that issue should be a priority.
Heflebower said building more affordable housing will be crucial for future improvement to the issue of homelessness in Nebraska.
The affordable housing shortage is a complex problem, but Heflebower said there are a few recommendations in the Strategic Housing Framework that should help.
“Increasing access to housing development, increasing access to supportive services, some rehab on older buildings that are maybe not up to code — up to speed. We have a lot of aging housing stock, particularly in rural areas of our state. So there needs to be a multi-pronged approach to this,” Heflebower said.
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