Number of homeless down, but homeless families up

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Families crowding together into single homes because of the bad economy helped increase the number of homeless families last year, even as the total number of homeless individuals dropped, federal housing officials reported Wednesday. Roughly 170,000 families spent at least one night in a shelter in 2009, up from 159,000 families in 2008 and 131,000 in 2007, according to the Housing and Urban Development Department's annual report to Congress released Wednesday. That increase, the report said, "is almost certainly related to the recession." "It may be that many families already at risk of becoming homeless lacked sufficient support networks and became homeless almost immediately after the economy turned down," the report said. "A much larger group turned to family and friends and may be doubled up and still at great risk of becoming homeless." HUD attributed the 2009 increase in family homelessness to the use of emergency shelters, rather than transitional housing. Homeless families stayed in shelters an average of 36 nights in 2009, up from 30 nights the year before, the report said. "Not only did family homelessness continue to increase ... it also seems to have become more severe in the sense that it took the typical family longer to leave shelter," the report said. HUD defined a family as a household with at least one adult and one child. HUD Assistant Secretary Mercedes Marquez said the trend of families crowding together is expected to continue.

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