Delaware count finds ‘unsurprising’ 9% increase state’s homeless population

With homelessness rising, trends include an increase in homeless children, individuals aged 55 and older and Black communities accounting for 60% of the affected population.

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A physician assistant checks a vacant homeless camp in an attempt to provide medical care.

File: In this Feb. 19, 2016, photo, a physician assistant checks a vacant homeless camp in an attempt to provide medical care. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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Delaware’s homeless population rose from 1,245 in 2023 to 1,358 this year, a 9% increase, according to the latest Point-in-Time Count report.

The higher number isn’t surprising to Rachel Stucker, executive director of Housing Alliance Delaware. She points out the influence of milder weather this year compared to last year. Excluding the pandemic years, this year’s count would mark the largest count on record.

“Our big takeaway from the 2024 count is that unsurprisingly it represents another year where we’re seeing an increase in homelessness,” she said. “In 2023, it was really, really wet, really rainy and swampy and lots of heavy downpours. Whereas this year in 2024, it was a little wet out, but it was not raining [compared to last year]. It was kind of the perfect weather to be out there.”

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“If you don’t include 2021 and 2022, then 2024 represents the largest Point-in-Time Count number,” she added.

Earlier this year, HAD invited WHYY News to join Brandywine Counseling outreach volunteers as they went out overnight to count the number of people living outside. On Jan. 24, the group walked through the woods in Kent County, eventually reaching an encampment in the Dover area where most residents chose not to engage, affecting the count.

Of the total count, 1,120 had found shelter while 238 remained unsheltered, indicating a significant increase in the unsheltered count compared to pre-pandemic times.

“We’ve been seeing the sheltered numbers go up a lot. So that’s people who are literally without a place, people sleeping outside and their cars. In 2024, it was 238 people, which is 58% higher than it was in 2020 right before COVID-19 hit,” she said. “About 60% of all people who are experiencing homelessness on the night of the Point-in-Time here in Delaware were Black and African American.”

HAD found about 800 Black residents didn’t have a permanent place to stay, while nearly 360 children were experiencing homelessness and over 500 individuals were age 55 and above.

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“One in four people experiencing homelessness that night was a child under the age of 18, which is just completely unacceptable, and we also see a pretty high number of [people] over the age of 55,” she said. “Homelessness among seniors and people who are older is increasing across the country, and we’re also seeing that here in Delaware. About 22% of people were also over the age of 55.”

While recognizing the increase in numbers is important, Stucker said their main target is identifying and analyzing the trends accompanying the uptick.

“We’re pretty confident that the community conditions are what is causing our continued trend of increasing homelessness in our state,” she said. “The lack of housing, a lack of supportive housing. In terms of the increase in unsheltered population, there’s not enough emergency shelter to make sure everyone has a safe shelter.”

HAD has submitted Delaware’s 2024 PIT Count Data to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, hoping that, given the increase in homelessness and the variety of trends in the count, HUD can allocate additional funds to support housing initiatives in Delaware, especially for those with disabilities.

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