By John Yazwinski
COMMENTARY – Recently, organizations working with the individual homeless population have seen an alarming trend: after a 10-year decrease in the number of homeless individuals, we have seen an uptick in suburban communities like Wareham and Plymouth and in cities like Brockton and Quincy. The fastest-growing demographic groups are those 18-24 and our veterans. We made progress over the past decade. The region saw a significant decline of individuals living on the streets or in shelters. In part, that is because programs working with this population have operated in a flexible environment that fosters innovation. But they have also worked within an environment of increasingly constrained economic resources. Funding from the state’s budget for the 40 programs around Massachusetts that provide services to homeless individuals has declined by 14 percent since 2001 when adjusted for inflation. To illustrate the challenge, we are paid by the state for 126 beds a night, but this year have averaged 255 individuals in need of shelter; and we can’t close our doors when we hit our contract capacity.