Image of one of several tents within a homeless encampment next to I-84 in Hartford on Tuesday, March 20, 2021 (Doug Hardy / CTNewsJunkie)
One of several tents within a homeless encampment next to I-84 in Hartford on Tuesday, March 20, 2021 (Doug Hardy / CTNewsJunkie)

Homelessness in Connecticut increased for the second consecutive year, according to an annual tally of unhoused people which found 3,015 individuals experiencing homelessness during a single night in January.

This year’s “point-in-time” count, conducted on Jan. 24 and released this week by the group Advancing Connecticut Together, recorded an increase of 2.9% over last year, when the federally required tally found 2,930 people without a place to live. Last year’s census broke from years of declining homelessness in Connecticut with a 13% jump over the prior year. 

Although it represents a smaller increase, this year’s tally recorded an additional 85 people without a home. 

“Each number in the report represents real-life persons and families with hopes, dreams, and the right to be stably housed,” this year’s report read. “We hope that reviewing these numbers will inspire challenging and solutions-based dialogue.”

The report found a more than 7% increase in the number of unhoused young people, aged 24 or younger. 

The number of people experiencing chronic homelessness remained consistent with last year’s tally at 117 individuals. Chronic homelessness applies to people without a home for at least a year, who are often struggling with serious disabilities, mental illness or substance use disorders.

Since the COVID pandemic, recent surveys have shifted away from physical canvassing for people experiencing homelessness, in favor of compiling information from a database of reports from housing services. 

Despite efforts to provide an accurate snapshot of the state’s unhoused population, many homelessness service providers believe the survey likely underrepresents the true scope of the problem. 

“You’re bound to miss people, just by the nature of it,” Rebekah Lyas, assistant director of the South Park Inn shelter, said on Thursday. “A lot of times, homeless folks may not want to identify as being homeless, especially if you’re a stranger coming up to them and asking them to fill out a survey. I’m sure it’s underreported.” 

Although the Hartford-based shelter has not been at capacity during the recent warmer months, Lyas said it was a different story during the winter, when South Park Inn ran the city’s warming center. 

“There were nights that folks had to be turned away from the warming center because there was just no space for them,” she said. 

Lyas worried about the impact the coming winter may have on a larger homeless population, especially if it is more severe than last year’s colder months. 

“What worries me the most is that this past winter was a very mild winter,” she said. “We did not have a ton of snow or freezing cold and the numbers were high. If we have a really rough winter this year, I think that will definitely impact us even more.”

The continued rise of homelessness in Connecticut coincides with an increase in evictions since the expiration of temporary tenant protections adopted during the COVID pandemic, as well as a persistent shortage of affordable housing units. 

Connecticut ranked as the 10th least affordable state in a 2021 National Apartment Association report, which compared rent costs to income levels. 

Other factors contributing to homelessness include substance use disorders, mental health issues, and job losses, Lyas said. She pointed to the proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child.” It can be the same way with adults, she said. 

“We all need community and we need people to not give up on us,” she said. “Be neighborly and help one another.”