Homeward Bound: Decrease in Homelessness Witnessed in Chester County, Initiatives in Motion to Counter Housing Crisis

Rob Henry - Chester County Partnership to End Homelessness 2024 Point in Time CountRob Henry (left), Administrator for Chester County’s Partnership to End Homelessness, reveals the County’s 2024 Point-In-Time results at this week’s State of Housing Affordability and Homelessness event. /Submitted Image

WEST CHESTER, PA — Chester County residents may be breathing a sigh of relief as newly released data indicates a significant decline in the local homeless population. The latest annual Point-In-Time (PIT) count results, unveiled by the Chester County Department of Community Development (DCD) and the Chester County Partnership to End Homelessness, shows a decrease in homelessness in Chester County.

On the evening of January 24, 2024, this no-holds-barred census of our homeless population found 213 individuals suffering from homelessness. When compared to the previous year’s data, it’s clear that a substantial reduction has occurred.

It’s important to account for certain unique factors that possibly influenced this year’s decrease. For instance, milder weather conditions meant less reliance on Code Blue emergency shelters. Furthermore, the dissolution of two transitional housing organizations, Fresh Start and Veterans Multiservice Center, led to their exclusion from the 2024 stats, lessening the total figure.

County Commissioners Josh Maxwell, Marian Moskowitz, and Eric Roe, however, stress that one-time events only play a partial role in the observed homelessness reduction. They credit the consistent efforts of the DCD and its allies in not only housing the homeless but also preventing homelessness as the driving force behind this reverse trend.

In their exact words, “There will always be factors ‘on the night’ that impact the number of homeless people recorded during the PIT count, but the important factor that is steadily reducing the number of those experiencing homelessness is the years of work by DCD and our Partnership to End Homelessness to find ways to not only provide shelter but prevent homelessness in the first place.”

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Chester County is not resting on its laurels regarding this issue. In 2022, it joined forces with 101 other American communities to promote the “House America” initiative. This ambitious project commits to constructing 1,000 affordable housing units over a decade and rehousing those experiencing homelessness as needed.

According to Dolores Colligan, Director of Chester County’s DCD, the county is already making strides towards achieving its promised housing vow, with developments underway in areas such as Phoenixville, West Chester, and Kennett Square.

Additionally, crucial aid programs like the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), managed by the DCD, have aided over 6,000 households since 2021 in maintaining their housing situation and avoiding eviction.

Chester County’s 2024 PIT count also revealed a concerning racial discrepancy in homelessness, with 62 percent of those affected being people of color. Children constituted 30 percent of the counted homeless population.

While the decrease in homelessness is encouraging, Chester County still grapples with housing affordability issues. The median rent and housing prices have surged by 27 and 23 percent, respectively, in the past five years. Such trends underline the necessity of continued investment and innovation in combating homelessness in Chester County and ensuring homes are not merely a privilege, but a right, for all.

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