Federal report says homelessness decreasing in South Dakota, advocates say otherwise

Published: Dec. 11, 2017 at 4:34 PM CST
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A new federal report says fewer people in South Dakota are homeless.

While that federal report says one thing, local homeless advocates are saying the exact opposite.

In fact, one of those advocates says they're on pace to set a record for the number of homeless people they'll serve this year.

The report from federal Housing and Urban Development says homelessness has dropped 12% statewide over the last year based on homeless count data compiled last January.

But three homeless agencies we contatced say they don't think that number is right.

"The demand that we see for homeless services certainly hasn't decreased." Brett Johnson with the Sioux Empire Homeless Coalition tells me while the annnual homeless count in January is well intentioned it does not tell a full and complete story. "We're well aware that the individuals that we are looking for aren't necessarily outside or unsheltered." Johnson says many of the area's homeless are living in cars or living with friends and because the count is done in January may not be readily available to be counted because they're seeking shelter from the cold somewhere other than a traditional homeless shelter.

"What I see on a daily basis is there's a continued need and this is a continuing social issue." Traci Jensen is the Homeless Liaison for the Sioux Falls School District and she says there is a continued problem in the district with kids who have no place to call home.

Right now the Sioux Falls School District says it has identified 705 of its students that it terms homeless and if recent trends from recent years hold true that list will add another 300 names by the end of the year.

And it's a problem that is not diminishing. Traci Jensen says, "We do see the number of youth over the last couple years has increased."

Also seeing an increase...the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House. "We're probably going to be on pace to serve 1,600 unique men and women at our facility this year in Sioux Falls." Executive Director Chad Campbell says that would be a record for the three years the house has been in operation.

Up from the more than 1,400 people they helped just last year.

Again the HUD report is based only on homeless count data from last January.

And advocates here admit that count is limited in scope. One reason is that some people who are homeless are willing to seek help from local agencies but do not want to admit as part of a survey that they have no home to call their own.