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Data Show Homelessness Decreased Slightly In Maine In 2020, But Advocates Warn There Are Caveats

Overall homelessness in Maine appeared to decrease very slightly last year, according to a yearly report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to the snapshot data, which cites statistics on a single night in January, 2,097 people in Maine experienced homelessness, a decrease of 0.4% from 2019.

But experts who follow social trends and data say the snapshot survey is unlikely to tell the whole story.

James Myall with the Maine Center for Economic Policy says homelessness is a complex issue, and that social service agencies try to avoid “drawing too many conclusions” from a single number.

“The headline number that’s used, there are a lot of difficulties relying on that to try and get a comprehensive look at what homelessness or housing insecurity looks like. Because it’s sort of done as a headcount survey, it’s possible to miss some folks,” he says. “That can be especially folks who might be sleeping in their cars, or who might be couch surfing, or staying with family or friends temporarily.”

The HUD snapshot data also occurred before the pandemic hit.

Myall says trackers through the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that Mainers through 2020 have reported high levels of insecurity and anxiety over their housing, but it’s not clear how many actually became homeless over the course of the year or for how long.

Other findings in the HUD report: In Maine, unsheltered homelessness almost doubled. Youth homelessness increased by 11%. Veteran and family homelessness decreased, while chronic homelessness remained the same.