Counting the city’s homeless

Philadelphia has one of the lowest rates of homelessness, despite having a high poverty rate.

Homelessness affected Sophia Kim each time she walked down or drove along the streets in her native country of South Africa. She would get swarmed by homeless people begging for food.

“I haven’t lived in Philadelphia until last August, but I don’t think that homelessness is a huge problem,” Kim said.

Kim, a freshman fine arts major, said since living in Philadelphia, she has only seen about five homeless people around the neighborhood.

But homelessness is a reality for approximately 6,000 people in Philadelphia, according to the national Jan. 28 Point-in-Time count of homeless people that is federally required in every city. The homeless population was about the same size last year.

On any given evening, Project HOME, a nonprofit organization that aims to help homeless people, estimates there are 650 people who are sleeping on the streets, 300 of whom are in Center City.

Homelessness fluctuates seasonally, with higher spikes of homelessness in summer months.

Despite Philadelphia having one of the highest poverty rates of any other major city in the country, it has one of the lowest rates of homelessness.

The causes of homelessness are complex and can occur for a number of reasons like poverty from lack of jobs with competitive wages, lack of affordable transportation, inadequate resources for mental health, substance abuse issues and domestic abuse.

According to Project HOME, 94.1 percent of all homeless people have behavioral health challenges. Another 12.1 percent have mental health issues and another 12 percent have substance abuse issues. Also, 70 percent of homeless have dual diagnoses of these different problems.

Philadelphia celebrated an end to veterans who were homeless this past year. Nationally, veterans make up 8 percent of the total homeless population. Philadelphia makes up about 40 percent of the estimated 15,421 homeless people in the state.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported to Congress in November that there had been a 2 percent decrease in homelessness since 2014 nationally, 11,742 fewer people sleeping on the streets. HUD also reported there had been an 11 percent decline in homelessness since 2007, translating to 82,550 fewer people who were homeless in 2015 than 2007.

“It is a problem in the developed parts of the world where it gets cold and people can die from hypothermia,” Kim said.

Gillian McGoldrick can be reached at or on Twitter @gill_mcgoldrick.

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