Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Another Comment on Counting Homeless People

New York City Debates Counting Homeless People

On this cold snowy day, I made it to work. I made the mistake of taking Mayfield Road hill on Monday night home. Big Mistake!! It took one hour and twenty minutes to get from CSU to Cleveland Hts at 8 p.m.. Then this morning I took Cedar Hill, which actually did not have one drop of snow. It was the best plowed street in the City. I was amazed. Anyway...I made it. Someone called the office and asked why the media was not talking about homeless people on this snowy day. The simple answer is that I do not control the media, but I can tell you what goes on during these cold days for homeless people.

First, we are one of the only cities left in the United States that will accept anyone who comes to the door. We have two shelters that do not turn anyone away. Then in extreme weather conditions the shelters are supposed to not close. Normally, shelters ask their clients to leave during the day (to look for non-existent jobs or find housing that they cannot afford). Reminds me of the ancient Greek myth where Prometheus has his liver eaten everyday, but as an immortal it grows back and he starts all over again the next day. But I digress.

Anyway, the shelters keep people inside on extreme weather days. Also, during any natural disaster homeless people blend better into the mainstream. Everyone is struggling on days like today. Everyday is a struggle for homeless people, so they actually fair better on these days. The City will open the Community Centers and homeless people will use those as respite from the cold if they choose not to use the shelters. I have heard of some cities who try to exclude homeless people from disaster relief centers, but that does not happen in Cleveland. It can get overwhelming for the shelters that take anyone who comes to their door, and so there is quite a bit of communication between the shelters to exchange homeless people with a goal of keeping everyone safe and warm.

On another note... We have written about the futility of counting homeless people. One of the papers in New York City did a feature on this issue, and I thought one of the comments submitted by Picture the Homeless was interesting.
"Dear PTH Friends, Members, and Allies,

Ever since the NYC Department of Homeless Services first started its count of street homeless people, Picture the Homeless members have voiced significant concerns about *why* the city does the count, and how it plays into the stigmatization of the homeless and the focus on individuals and their "issues" instead of the systemic problems that create homelessness. This week's edition of City Limits contains a terrific response to the HOPE 2007 count from PTH elder statesman Jean Rice, incorporating the perspectives of several Picture the Homeless folks.

The text can be read here: (This is one link with no break)

A homeless "count" relies upon people "looking homeless" so they can be visually identified. Many people who are homeless go to great lengths to NOT appear homeless (whatever that is). Also, there is a fluidity to street homelessness that cannot be captured in one night, because during that one night of the count many people who are street homeless might be working, locked up (for BEING street homeless), or temporarily staying with friends and family. As a corollary, while the
average daily shelter population in 2005 [in New York City] was 33,687, in that same year 97,039 unique individuals accessed shelter. If the Administration put the same energy into counting abandoned buildings or irresponsible landlords citywide, and then implementing comprehensive policy solutions, they might not need to use law enforcement to make the street homeless population go down."--Picture the Homeless, New York City.

I could not say it any better. For comparison, the count in Cleveland found 2,000 people which is actually less then the number of shelter beds. Most experts believe that double that number is closer to reality on most days. The City estimates that there are 10,000 abandoned/vacant structures in Cleveland.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

1 comment:

Homeless said...

What often gets lost in the debate is what do the homeless think of it all? We tend to ignore them just as we fail to account for them.