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Annual Count: Homelessness Decreased in Bucks During Pandemic

April 27, 2021

Contact: Jeffrey Fields, 215-345-3844, jsfields@buckscounty.org

While the coronavirus pandemic reverberated through Bucks County in 2020, the Housing Link Homeless Service system mobilized to meet the crisis. Despite an unemployment spike, preliminary results of the county’s annual census of people experiencing homelessness show a decrease in the count from a year ago.

The preliminary 2021 results, which will be reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, indicate a 13.5 percent overall decrease in homelessness, and a 23 percent decrease in unsheltered homelessness, from the January 2020 count. Compared to the January 2019 count, it represents a 20 percent overall decrease and a 32 percent decrease of unsheltered homelessness. The decrease is notable as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently released data showing that from 2019 to 2020, homelessness increased nationally by 2.2 percent.

“Bucks County prioritizes the housing stability of all of our residents, especially the most vulnerable,” said Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, chair of the Bucks County Commissioners. “The decreases in homelessness, even during a generational crisis, is a testament to the hard work of all our community partners coming together to serve this vital need.”

Housing Link staff and volunteers on Jan. 27 performed the county’s annual, federally mandated “Point in Time (PIT)” Count.  The one-day PIT is a count of sheltered and unsheltered persons experiencing homelessness on a single night in January, compiled by the Bucks County Department of Housing and Community Development.

Results from the count identified 288 people in emergency shelters, transitional housing, hotels/motels or outdoors in Bucks County. Of these, 37 were sleeping in Code Blue temporary shelters for the night, 23 were sleeping outdoors or other places not meant for human habitation, and 228 were sleeping in emergency shelters, transitional housing units, or hotels/motels paid for by charitable organizations.

The reduction in the 2021 PIT Count is significant in that it highlights how the homeless response system was able to rapidly adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to tireless efforts by community non-profits, strong support from Bucks County leadership to allocate discretionary funding to support homelessness response, and increased federal funding directly for homeless services. Another major factor is the CDC-ordered eviction moratorium that has reduced new incidences of homelessness.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the homeless response system has mobilized to meet the increased demand and unique challenges brought on by COVID-19 through the following:

  • Utilization of hotels to increase shelter beds for people experiencing homelessness and compliance with public health distancing recommendations in emergency shelters
  • Large-scale expansion of rapid rehousing programs (assisting people experiencing homelessness to quickly move into permanent housing) via an additional investment of approximately $2 million
  • Financial support of approximately $500,000 to partner organizations to assist with obtaining meals, hotel rooms, personal protective equipment, and additional supplies for people experiencing homelessness
  • Financial support to faith-based Code Blue organizations to help meet public health requirements in order to safely operate their seasonal cold weather shelters during the coldest winter nights
  • Creation of additional Housing Locator positions to help families and individuals experiencing homelessness to more quickly locate safe and affordable housing.
  • Additional staffing for the Housing Link Helpline to respond more quickly to households experiencing a housing crisis
  • Expansion of eviction prevention efforts utilizing various federal sources
  • Increased funding for creative solutions that assist families to move into stable housing or prevent them from becoming homeless

“The pandemic has been so challenging for those in a housing crisis. Congregate settings and doubled-up situations, which were challenging enough prior to the pandemic, became even more stressful,” said Bucks County Housing and Community Development Director Jeffrey Fields. “I am incredibly grateful to the Housing Link partners for doubling down on their work to address homelessness by expanding staffing and programs during pandemic.

“But the work of ending homelessness is a community-wide effort,” he added. “Low vacancy rates are challenging our system to find housing options for our clients. I encourage all landlords to join us so we can continue to decrease homelessness in the county.”

For graphical representations of the data outlined in this article, visit the Bucks County Housing Link website here. If you are a landlord interested in learning more about ways to partner with the Bucks County Housing Link please visit www.buckshousinglink.org/landlords.