A continued decline in U.S. homelessness was highlighted in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) annual report.

The nationwide decline from 2014 to 2015 was 2 percent, with the number of homeless children declining by 6 percent and those aged 18 to 24 down 9 percent. A slight increase was seen in the over-24 population.

“In January 2015, 564,708 people were homeless on a given night. Most (69 percent) were staying in residential programs for homeless people, and 31 percent were found in unsheltered locations,” HUD found.

More than 83,000 of these are chronically homeless (without a home for one year or more, or having been homeless at least four times in the past three years).

The majority of the U.S. homeless population was over age 24 (68 percent) followed by folks under 18 (23 percent) and persons aged 18 to 24 (9 percent).

Overall, homelessness has declined by 11 percent since the launch of Opening Doors in 2010 – “the nation’s first-ever comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness” – dropping from 637,077 (2010) to 564,708 (2015).

The HUD report emphasized that significant work remains, while some have questioned the accuracy of the data, with at least three national organizations focused on addressing homelessness expressing concerns.

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), which oversees the Opening Doors initiative, has emphasized the significant role the faith community plays in addressing homeless.

Faith-based organizations and volunteers are among the several outlets that mitigate the impact of homelessness on individuals, families and community, USICH noted in its 2015 update on the progress of Opening Doors.

“The federal government needs leadership and support from faith communities, businesses and philanthropy to inspire and energize Americans to commit to preventing and ending homelessness,” USICH emphasizes.

National data on the number of faith-based shelters is not available, though some information is available to provide insight into the impact of faith-based homeless ministries and initiatives.

The Salvation Army has 618 shelters worldwide and serves 63 million meals each year in the U.S., many of which are provided to homeless persons.

Catholic Charities USA reports that they helped 524,000 folks in 238 shelters and 33,000 housing units last year.

At a local level, the CARITAS branch in Richmond, Virginia is the largest emergency shelter in the city – offering beds to as many as 110 each night and providing “over 90 percent of shelter beds available to single women.”

Nearly half of the Tennessee shelters listed on the HUD website are faith-based.

The full HUD report is available here.

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