Detroit’s homeless population has decreased over the past few years, and with more help from City Hall, that could become a long-term trend. But thousands are still on the streets daily, and Mayor Mike Duggan is making curbing homelessness a priority of his administration.

The city is hoping a head count that started in January will show lower numbers than last year and signal progress from efforts by the city and aid organizations.

In response to tent cities that have appeared the past few winters, Duggan decided point-in-time surveys should be conducted every year, rather than every other year, to assess the effectiveness of programs. The survey includes more than 100 social workers, medical students and volunteers who attempt to count individuals on the streets and in shelters.

In 2015, the count identified 2,748 homeless individuals, including 151 on the streets and another 2,579 in city shelters.

The hope is that the 2016 count will show a reduction of 400 individuals. Final results won’t be known until spring, but city and aid officials are hoping it follows the trend from 2013 to 2014, when the count decreased by 282 individuals, according to the Homeless Action Network of Detroit, which facilitates the count.

The city and HAND are working with the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development and of Veterans Affairs, particularly on ending homelessness among veterans. According to HAND, those programs and increased funding for this specific goal helped numbers decrease to 1,105 homeless veterans in 2014 from 1,783 in 2013.

While it appears progress is being made, it is important to note the point-in-time numbers reflect information retrieved over just a few days per year. HAND’s latest comprehensive report on homelessness in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park indicates the total number of homeless was about 15,700 in 2014.

That’s down from almost 20,000 in 2012 and 16,000 in 2013, but it’s still a large population.

Getting individuals and families into shelters will be a focus this year, but that’s only a temporary solution.

Real success means getting these individuals into permanent housing and ultimately finding a source of income for them and their families. That’s why it’s critical for the city to ramp up skilled trades training — and enact policies that attract employers who offer entry-level jobs.

Keeping a close eye on Detroit’s homeless population is important not only for the homeless, but also because it gives the city another metric of its health, economic growth and inclusion.

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