A semiannual survey conducted last month shows that Madison’s homeless population has grown by almost 12 percent since last year.
The survey is part of wider national effort to quantify the homeless population across the United States and is conducted in January and July every year, according to Sue Wallinger, grants administrator for the Community Development Block Grant office.
According to the survey, this year there are currently 732 sheltered and 99 unsheltered homeless people in Madison, up from 659 sheltered and 77 unsheltered people reported last year.
The survey is conducted based on a definition given by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, Wallinger said. According to the department, anyone who sleeps in an emergency shelter, transitional housing or in a place not meant for human habitation, such as the street or a car, is counted as homeless, Wallinger said.
All of the agencies in Dane County providing services to the homeless submit counts the night the survey is conducted, Wallinger said. A number of outreach workers also go out on the streets to count any unsheltered people. Some numbers are also received from the University of Wisconsin Police as well as the Madison Metropolitan School District, she said.
While 12 percent is an increase from previous years, both Wallinger and Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8 said they were not surprised by the results.
“Homelessness is going to be an issue no matter what that we’ll continue to battle with,” Resnick said. “The city of Madison does provide a significant amount of services both to the homeless and also those at risk.”
Resnick explained a number of shelters and many organizations around Dane County target homelessness. Overall, around $1.3 million goes to combating homelessness, he said.
Wallinger said she was particularly anxious to see the unsheltered count from the survey.
“While we do gather information on unmet needs, there are people that no longer try to access services, so we want to be sure that they’re counted too,” Wallinger said.
The survey generated questions about how the city will respond to the reported increase in homelessness.
Wallinger said the city will formulate their response based on the funding they have available. Additionally, the city will determine whether or not to alter any of the programs they currently offer in favor of another program, she said.
“While [homelessness] is a very well-known perceived problem, there’s only so many options that you can respond with,” Resnick said.
Resnick explained the city needs to respond to the increase by looking at how to provide additional housing. He cited several examples of how this could be achieved, including the affordable housing trust, improving socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals and finding mechanisms to improve the housing stock.
The city is doing its part in trying to combat homelessness, Resnick said. However, combatting homelessness will require the resources of more than just the city government, he said.
“Hopefully, the city of Madison can find partners to help accomplish its goal and find permanent housing for those on the street,” Resnick said.