OLR Research Report

May 8, 2003




By: Robin K. Cohen, Principal Analyst

You asked for an update of an earlier OLR Report (98-R-0863) that provided an estimate of the number of homeless people in Connecticut.

It is difficult to give an exact number of homeless people in the state. While the Department of Social Services (DSS) collects data on utilization rates for the 46 emergency shelters it funds, there are many other people without homes who (1) use shelters that do not get DSS funds or (2) do not use any shelter services at all and are therefore not counted. According to DSS, 16,545 people used state-funded shelters in Connecticut between October 1, 2001 and September 30, 2002. Of these, nearly 18% were children. In the latest month for which DSS had information (December 2002, one of the coldest months last winter), the shelters served 3,523 people.

Definitions of homeless people could mask the magnitude of the problem in certain areas. For example, federal law (for purposes of funding for state homelessness assistance programs) defines a homeless person as one who “lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence and… has a primary night time residency that is (a) a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations…(b) an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized, or (c) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings” (42 USC 11302(a)).

The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) asserts that this definition captures homeless people in urban areas who are street or shelter dwellers, or are facing imminent eviction with nowhere to go, but that people who live in areas where there are no shelters (rural areas) are more likely to live with relatives or in overcrowded substandard housing, and are thus not captured for purposes of federal funding.

But even measures of urban homelessness could be misleading. During the federal fiscal year period referenced above, the overall utilization rate in the state’s shelters was 86% (up from 80% in FFY 1999-2000. ) But utilization in shelters located in some of the state’s largest cities, such as Hartford and Bridgeport, hovered around 100%, and in several instances exceeded that level. (The Immaculate Conception Shelter in Hartford had a 188% utilization rate. ) These high capacity shelters might suggest that even in the larger cities, there are people who are not getting access to shelters and are therefore not part of the count. Indeed, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness reports that in 2002, 27,114 people were turned away from shelters due to a lack of space.

We are attaching copies of the DSS annual homeless shelter report, including demographic data on shelter users, along with a report covering December 2002.

RC: ro