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Homelessness is on the decline in Hamilton County, but could be rising statewide

cincinnati's skyline
Jake Blucker

New federal data says the number of Ohioans experiencing homelessness grew almost 7% last year, but one local expert says the point-in-time count is often inaccurate.

The report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is based on the number of unhoused people on a single night in January 2023. The report is released annually, comparing single-day counts over time.

Kevin Finn is president of Strategies to End Homelessness, the lead agency coordinating services in Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

"In a one day count, it's really easy to miss people who are experiencing homelessness," Finn said. "But when you count 365 days of the year, and you have people who are out looking for people sleeping on the streets and that sort of thing on a basically constant basis, there's much less chance that you would miss someone."

RELATED: One Ohio town's new approach to homelessness: coexistence

Finn says Cincinnati was the first in the country to have all local agencies contribute data to the Homeless Management Information System.

The final numbers can be drastically different. The HUD report released last week identified 967 people experiencing homelessness on that single day last January. The locally collected data shows more than 6,000 people experienced homelessness at some point in 2022.

Finn says any data is better than having none at all, but accuracy matters when it comes to deciding how to spend limited funding to respond to and prevent homelessness.

"There's a thousand different ways to use data to grasp the issue of homelessness," Finn said. "But you know, the one thing that is for sure is that if you don't have good data, then it's really hard to understand the problem and identify ways to solve it."

One thing in common this year is that both data sets show a recent decline in homelessness in Hamilton County.

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Statewide, however, the HUD report says Ohio's unhoused population grew 6.9% and the increase across the entire U.S. was 12%.

"The lack of affordable housing is the primary cause of homelessness, and the shortage of affordable housing has been growing steadily for years," said Amy Riegel, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, in a statement. "Given the enormous and growing gap between rents and renters’ wages, we’re fortunate that homelessness hasn’t risen even more dramatically.”

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.