Last year, a family from Somers traveled 100 miles south to a shelter in Stamford.
Another family became homeless in Haddam and traveled 70 miles north to a shelter in Killingly.
This is the kind of data that is now available, as part of a nationwide effort to coordinate access to homeless resources. The data, from the Connecticut Homeless Management Information System, tracks people in state-funded shelters or transitional housing. The goal is to connect people with permanent housing as quickly as possible and end long-term homelessness.
“We are only now able to really understand how many families are seeking shelter in a given area,” said Lisa Tepper Bates, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.
So, what does the data say? From Oct. 1, 2013, to Sept. 30, 2014, 1,259 families were in shelters or transitional housing. The shelters collected data on about 1,100 families about their last residence. Of those 1,100, about 1,200 were adults and 1,800 children. Homeless families in Connecticut — defined as at least one adult and one child — tend to be from dense, urban towns. But a moderate number of families become homeless in suburban towns, and there is anecdotal evidence that may be increasing
Under the homelessness management system, individuals arriving at a shelter are asked for their last permanent address, which gives a good proxy for where they became homeless. This allowed TrendCT to analyze the data for where homeless families come from. It’s a nuanced question, but we boiled it down to five points:
1. New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport account for half the families
More than half the homeless families came from the densest towns in the state — Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven. That’s about 57 percent of the homeless families in shelters, even though those cities only account for 11 percent of the state’s population. Those three cities also had among the most homeless families per capita.
All that said, there were enough resources in those cities to keep a large percentage of their homeless families within the city limits.
In New Haven, 229 families were in shelters from Oct. 1, 2013, to Sept. 30, 2014; in Hartford, there were 174 families. In both cities, the last permanent address for about 80 percent of families was in the same city.
In Bridgeport, there were 136 families — about 57 percent of whom received shelter in the city.
2. The suburbs aren’t immune
While homeless rates are higher in the cities, some smaller municipalities — often in Windham or New London counties — do have high rates of homelessness, such as Killingly, Norwich and Griswold.
The chart below shows the number of homeless families in each town, per 10,000 residents. It shows that, in general, towns with higher populations have a higher rate of homeless families.
That said, hover on the dots that are higher than the clusters of dots to see the outliers.
But it’s not just about the size of the population; the density of a town has an even stronger correlation with the rate of homeless families. For example, New London, which has a relatively small population — about 28,000 people — crams in 4,900 residents per square mile.
3. Suburban families have to travel further
Most shelters and transitional housing providers are located in the cities, so homeless families there traveled only an average of six miles, or an eight-minute drive, to reach their shelter, according to TrendCT’s analysis.
Meanwhile, residents in all other towns traveled an average of 13 miles or 18 minutes to their shelter.
Click on rural towns on the map at the top of this story to see some of the distances traveled.
4. Estimating the number of children
Children accompanied by guardians are not counted accurately in this system, so the best the way to estimate the number is to assume the average family has about 1.5 children.
“If you have that one family from Bozrah going somewhere, they might have four [children],” and not 1.5, said Brian Roccapriore, director of both CTHMIS and strategic analysis for the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. “But if you look at the overall picture in the state, then it’s accurate.”
As for unaccompanied children, we will cover that in depth in a future post. But the short of it is: They have been severely undercounted in the past, and there are efforts to get a better count.
5. Homelessness may be increasing in the suburbs
While only about 400 homeless families are from suburban towns, advocates say a growth in suburban poverty has anecdotally caused more suburban families to experience homelessness. We’re still digging on this data, but it follows trends of increasing suburban poverty.
The median income in a town is a good indicator of the rate of homeless families in shelters, but even as you get near a median household income of $100,000, there are towns with a moderate number of families experiencing homelessness.
Since this is the first year of uniform, statewide data collection, the HMIS system can’t document whether suburban homelessness is increasing. But Tepper Bates said the suburbs are still feeling reverberations of the Great Recession, a slower recovery in Connecticut and the nationwide trend of rising poverty.
“More and more American families, who at one point we would’ve considered working class or working poor, are living on the very edge,” she said.
She said the “great majority” of families who become homeless come out of situations where they are doubled up in a house — maybe a single mother with two children who loses a job and an apartment, and ends up moving in with a sister. “And we see a higher degree of that in very expensive housing markets,” she said, adding a lot of that exists in Fairfield County, where housing is expensive.
An earlier version of this story had the incorrect number of homeless families in shelters last year. There were 1,259 total families, and shelters collected data on 1,100 them.