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Number of county homeless last year fell

More than 5,000 people in Erie County were homeless at some point between October 2010 and September 2011 -- with 40 percent of them experiencing homelessness for the first time, according to the latest study by the Homeless Alliance of Western new York.

The report, due out today, counted 5,050 homeless people in the 12-month span, down from 5,331 in 2009-10.

Some of the numbers were based on estimates, so authors of the report cautioned against drawing a firm conclusion that homelessness was on the decline.

Monthly "snapshot" statistics suggest that the number of homeless people in the county has remained relatively stable over the past two years, said Dale Zuchlewski, executive director of the Homeless Alliance.

In last year's report, the Homeless Alliance estimated 8,500 people were homeless in 2009-10. But the organization this year revised those findings, which included refugees who were staying at Vive La Casa while seeking asylum in the United States and Canada.

"They had some huge numbers," Zuchlewski said of Vive La Casa, where clients do not anticipate staying long-term in Western New York.

The 8,500 figure also counted people who had found permanent "supportive housing" and thus were not technically homeless, Zuchlewski added. The new numbers more accurately reflect the state of homelessness in the area, he said.

The report estimated that, on any given night, 1,000 people are homeless in Erie County. Most of them can be found in emergency shelters.

But the study found that 492 people spent at least one night in 2010-11 living in cars, abandoned buildings, under bridges or in homeless camps.

Still, the number of unsheltered homeless people appears to be headed down.

In 2009-10, the Homeless Alliance tallied 692 people as unsheltered homeless.

And "point-in-time" counts of unsheltered homeless also dropped dramatically. On Jan. 26, 2012, case workers counted 106 people living on the streets, down from a count of 178 on Jan. 26, 2011, and of 201 on Jan. 27, 2010.

Zuchlewski said he hoped to get the number of unsheltered homeless even lower by using federal funds to get people into housing first, so human services staff can help them address other problems, such as addictions or mental illness.

Among other findings:

* 297 children under the age of 5 were homeless.

* 223 veterans were homeless, a decrease of 82 from 2009-10.

* The highest concentration of homeless people were 45 to 49 years old, followed by 20- to 24-year-olds.