Homeless shelter may provide step off the street

The recent opening of Safe Harbor’s emergency homeless shelter marks a crucial milestone in Traverse City’s battle against homelessness.

The 72-bed facility offers the area’s homeless to eat a warm meal and sleep under a roof each night from November through April, the months when frigid temperatures make spending a night in the open a dangerous endeavor.

People who don’t have a home face huge obstacles to living safely and productively.

Even if a person can hang onto a job while sleeping on the street, the logistics of such living conditions make climbing the economic ladder almost an impossibility.

But homelessness is the stark reality for more than half a million people in the United States.

In 2016, 549,928 people were experiencing homelessness on any particular night, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.

The public perception of homelessness seems to center on the chronically homeless, people who haven’t had a stable living situation for years, don’t now and likely won’t in the future. But those folks in 2016 accounted for only 22 percent of the nation’s homeless, according to the federal assessment report.

The nation’s struggle against homelessness appears to be making progress. The number of homeless people declined from 647,258 in 2007 to 549,928 in 2016, according to the report. The total declined 3 percent between 2015 and 2016.

But there still are half a million people living on the street in the United States. And more than three-quarters of them are not chronically homeless. Instead, they’ve been forced onto the street temporarily by a variety of circumstances — job losses, rising rents, etc.

It is telling that the decline in homelessness between 2015 and 2016 was composed almost entirely of people who had been staying in emergency shelters or other locations. Such shelters may help people transition from homelessness to home.