Emily Rice Published

W.Va.’s First Study On Homelessness Released

A person's hand, wearing a fingerless glove reaches toward the viewer, holding a cardboard cut out of a house.
There’s not just a single reason that people end up being homeless in West Virginia, according to a new study.
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The first comprehensive study of homelessness in West Virginia was released by the West Virginia Department of Human Service (DoHS), Bureau for Behavioral Health (BBH) Monday.

In 2023, the legislature passed a bill tasking the DoHS to study who comprises West Virginia’s homeless population, what resources are available to them and what factors led to their living situation.

The study found that 58 percent of individuals experiencing homelessness self-identified as male. Nearly half of those experiencing homelessness were between the ages of 25 and 44.

Additionally, 13 percent self-identified as Black or African American, a figure notably higher than the 3.7 percent of the total West Virginia population identifying as Black or African American, as reported by the 2020 U.S. Census.

The study notes that while substance use disorder and mental illness are drivers of homelessness, individuals face a combination of challenges, from arrest records to lack of affordable housing and unemployment.

According to data from the National Center for Homeless Education, cited in the report, 3.6 percent of all public school students enrolled in West Virginia experienced homelessness from 2021 to 2022, which is 50 percent higher than the national rate of 2.4 percent.

Geographically, the study found the majority of West Virginians experiencing homelessness were found in population centers, where most of the services aimed at assisting this population are located.

Finally, the study found that many individuals experiencing homelessness are long-term residents of West Virginia. When asked their reasoning for relocating to or staying in West Virginia, respondents said the availability of services, proximity to family and personal relationships are some reasons they’ve stayed in the state.