Go Behind the Numbers
Last week, the National Alliance to End Homelessness issued a report on the number of homeless people in the United States that received a great deal of media attention. First of all, the number is a dramatic under count. The media was not very accurate with the reporting of these numbers. Please check out the original report that does a good job of clarifying the statistics. The 744,000 number of homeless people in the United States is a one day figure. It is a HUD mandate for every community to count the number of homeless people in January. The National Alliance report was praised on the Department of Housing and Urban Development website. We all need to be very skeptical of any report praised by HUD--an agency which believes that it is a good idea to demand every community in the United States focus resources on single, disabled homeless people who have long periods of homelessness even if there is no one in that town that fits that description.
All the people living in abandoned properties are not counted. Cities like Cleveland (with almost 10,000 abandoned units) and Detroit, and Pittsburgh have a huge barrier to an accurate count. The last count from Cleveland barely got to the number of shelter beds in the County. As an aside virtually every shelter bed in the County is full every night of the year. The private shelters like City Mission and St. Herman's and the hundreds of others in the country do not report either. Figuring out the best times to count is also nearly impossible. How would you like if the Census showed up at 5 a.m and burst in your bedroom to count the number of residents in your house? Speaking of the Census, they have a hard time counting people who live in housing with wide spread reports of undercounts in most cities. And yet HUD thinks that they can do better at counting people than an agency constituted only to count people? HUD has the other obstacle of trying to count a migratory population that does not have a fixed place to live.
As you can tell, NEOCH does not participate in the counting of homeless people. I can see nothing useful in the exercise. I firmly believe that it is a means to cut all of our funding. I believe that HUD will eventually say that there so few homeless people counted that we do not deserve all the funding that we are getting or one city is doing a bad job of counting and that city will be punished with fewer dollars. I also have an issue that in the richest country in the history of the world we send a team out to go to where homeless people live and just count them. Even by giving out some token gift seems somehow inappropriate. Finally, in the end, no matter how rigid the standards there will always be an undercount.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.