Key Point

Overall homelessness is decreasing, but the number of people who disclose that they struggle with mental illness is consistently near 30%.
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Let’s Break It Down

Of the 5,542 individuals who are homeless in our area, 1,589 also have a mental illness.

In 2013, 5,712 people including 921 children received homelessness services in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro. In 2014, the number slightly decreased to 5,682 people including 789 children. In 2015, it decreased to 5,542 people including 735 children. In 2015, 29% disclosed that they had a mental illness. More homeless people had a mental illness (29%) than drug (19%) or alcohol (21%) addiction, in 2015.

Since 2013, the number of veterans who have received homeless services has gradually decreased with 502 veterans receiving services in 2013, 497 in 2014, and 457 in 2015.

Homelessness is difficult to track, given its transient nature. However, the majority of homeless service providers (those who receive federal funds) track how many people are served through a Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-funded database called the Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS).

Why Does It Matter?

Mental illness is an additional, but often unseen, barrier to a stable life for those who are homeless.

Homelessness prevents many of our neighbors from having a safe, stable, and healthy life. The struggle to achieve stability is even more profound for those who face additional barriers like mental illness, addiction, or seen or unseen disabilities.

In 2014, there were 1,261 individuals (includes all homelessness providers) who were chronically homeless in our community. This includes over 100 children under the age of 18. People are considered chronically homeless when they have either accessed a homeless program 4 or more times in a year, or have been continuously homeless for a year or longer.

While homelessness data looks specifically at the number of people who seek services and shelter, it often misses individuals or families who are moving from relative to relative, or friend to friend, as a result of being unable to access affordable housing. This too can impact a family’s stability, but data for this is difficult to track.

How Do We Compare?

We need more local data on permanent, supportive housing options before we can say how we compare nationally.

In the 2014 National Point-in-Time Count, when the number of homeless individuals is tracked on one particular night, there were 578,424 homeless people in the United States. The Omaha-Council Bluffs metro’s count was 1,550 individuals, which translates to 196 homeless per 100,000 people (per capita). Comparing Midwestern cities with similar seasonal patterns, the Kansas City, MO area reported 1,931 homeless (285 per capita), Lincoln, NE reported 836 (285 per capita), and Oklahoma City, OK reported 1,481 homeless (199 per capita) individuals in one night.

More data on permanent, supportive housing options would provide better insight on this issue. The Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH)—our community's umbrella organization for homeless services providers—estimated in 2010 that people who are currently on the public housing unit waiting lists will wait 11.5 years to be served. Up until February 2016, regular data on wait times for housing was not available community-wide. A new collection system will regularly track wait lists for Permanent Supportive Housing across the community.

Data Source: 2013 & 2014 HUD HIMS- Continuum of Care Annual Performance Report (data includes all but one homeless shelter in Omaha and Council Bluffs).

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