Homeless numbers decline in Jackson County

For the first time in half a decade, the annual count of homeless people in Jackson County saw an annual decline in 2012.

The question is why, homeless assistance officials say.

A new report from the Homeless Services Coalition of Greater Kansas City attributes it to the efforts of community service agencies “to serve those in need despite funding challenges and resource scarcity.”

But coalition executive director Vickie Riddle acknowledged there might be other reasons.

An improved economy, perhaps, as well as government programs that aid homeless veterans and encourage a policy of rapid rehousing.

Or was there some statistical anomaly in a headcount whose accuracy Riddle called “dicey at best” because it depends on a count on a single day of people living in shelters, on the street or having some contact with homeless service agencies.

Still, Riddle was encouraged by the result of the January Point in Time survey, whose total of 2,434 homeless people was down 384 from a year ago.

“We do have that to be proud of,” she said in announcing the numbers on Wednesday. But Riddle stressed that homelessness remains a serious problem that too many people dismiss as affecting men with substance abuse problems who choose to live on the street or in shelters.

However, that group makes up less than 10 percent of the total, she said. Families account for nearly half of those tallied in this year’s count.

“Homelessness is a symptom of systemic poverty,” Riddle said.

Even with a lower number of homeless this year than last, the report said Jackson County needs at least 500 more units of housing for the poor and working poor included in the homeless numbers. But she noted that a plan for dealing with homelessness in the community a year ago has yet to result in additional housing units.