Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Battle of the Statistics

Veterans Make Up One Fourth of the Population

The National Alliance to End Homelessness released a study earlier this week measuring the extent of the problem among veterans and they found the problem was growing. The headlines were that military veterans make up one quarter of the homeless population, and we are beginning to see people entering the shelters who recently served in Afghanistan or Iraq. In the same week, the Department of HUD released a questionable study that showed a decrease in long term homelessness. The right wing latched onto the second study proclaiming not just the limited success of the study, but declaring victory in reducing the number of homeless people in the United States. It defies logic that when we walk down any street in any city in America we see the same number or more homeless people but we are told that Washington DC policy has worked in decreasing homelessness.

NEOCH absolutely agrees with the peer reviewed study released by the National Alliance. These are the same statistics we see locally. We do not see the large number of recent veterans that they are seeing on the coasts that is mentioned in the report. The Coalition has responded by making sure that every one of our programs is responsive to the veterans programs. We have a developed a veterans initiative to assure that every veteran has access to legal assistance, housing, voice mail, advocacy, and the Stand Down. The other alarming trend that we are seeing is a larger number of women veterans who are becoming homeless and seeking shelter.

Government in Action--HUD

In order to justify the spending of your taxes, every city now has to count the number of homeless people. While this is a nearly impossible task, it also is costly. The City of Los Angeles recently spent $800,000 to count 88,000 homeless people in their city. That is a little over $9 per person counted or 67 people who could have been given one years worth of rent in order to not be homeless at the fair market level in the expensive city of LA. We waste all this time and energy counting homeless people and we come up with bogus numbers that somehow get spun into a decrease in long term homelessness.

HUD uses these counts to proclaim victory in their fight to reduce long term homelessness, and I am sure that the next step is to use these numbers to justify a decrease in funding. Since the public does not understand the difference between long term or "chronic" homeless and just regular homeless people, the headlines proclaimed general victory in reducing the number of people facing homelessness in America. This is an incorrect use of the stats, besides being wrong. A few cities (my guess is two) have made progress on long term homelessness, but certainly not Cleveland. No way that Washington, San Francisco, Columbus, or Atlanta have seen any noticeable decrease in the homeless population after ignoring the problem for 15 years. Long term homelessness as defined by HUD are those who have been homeless for a year or 4 episodes over two years, and make up between 10-20% of the total population. If family homelessness (40% of the total population) increases by 2% and we allow HUD their 2% decrease in long term homeless there are still more homeless people for a community to deal with.

The problem is that all of this spin is false. I have seen how cities manipulate these counts. They either reduce the number of beds or services so that they do not have to count as many people or they just cannot figure out a way to count people who refuse to enter shelter. This magically results in a decrease in the homeless count in a city and HUD proclaims a success. Don't Believe the Hype.
"Throughout American history many of our social gains and much of our progress toward democracy were made possible by the active intervention of the federal government. " Harold Washington
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

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