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A study led by a Penn professor shows that homelessness is on the decline, but shelter workers say they are still turning people away.

“Philadelphia is way below the national average in terms of unsheltered [persons],” said Dennis Culhane , a professor at the School of Social Policy & Practice and an expert in homelessness. He said that the percentage of unsheltered homeless people in Philadelphia is about 14 percent, compared to the national average of around 30 percent. Culhane was the co-principal investigator of the research team that created the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report , which was released last week. The number of people experiencing homelessness across the country dropped to 578,424 in 2014 , down from 591,768 in 2013 — a two percent decline.

However, Philadelphia shelter workers say they don’t see the impact of the decline in their daily lives.

“We certainly see more people who meet our criteria than we have housing or we can serve,” Kali Karras, director of operations of Pathways to Housing, said. Her organization is a non-profit agency that serves chronically homeless people who have serious mental health issues and or chronic substance abuse problems. Pathways to Housing operates on a referral system, rather than by recruiting individuals off the street.

Even the more traditional emergency shelters, such as the Bethesda Project, experience this type of overflow.

“All of our shelters are pretty much full, especially at this time of year,” said Yarissa Reyes, director of communications at the Bethesda Project . Even so, there are still more homeless people who do not seek assistance, whether it is due to a previous bad experience in a homeless shelter, mental illness or fear of the unknown.

Counting unsheltered homeless people can be an arduous task. The Point in Time count , which reports the number of homeless people that exist in the United States at any particular point in time, is the source of data for the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report. The report relies on volunteers to locate and count unsheltered homeless people.

While there is still work to be done in eliminating homelessness, Culhane said that the overall decline in numbers nationwide indicates that “the whole country is prioritizing a solution to homelessness.”

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