Saturday, July 11, 2009

New Study on Family Homelessness

Picture by Cynthia Miller graduate of the NEOCH Photo Project.

Mandel Releases Study on Family Homelessness

It was a rough week with prevention, CAHA, the Grapevine, and Congress activities right after the holiday. A bunch of things happened this week that you should be aware.

Case Western Reserve University Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences released a report on Family Homelessness in Cuyahoga County, which provides a nice companion to our State of Homeless Report for 2008. Much of the data is not information that we had the ability to collect including the number of families doubled up. Mandel uses the deeply flawed Homeless Management Information data which only counted 1,211 families using the shelters over 3 years. The study also references the complete count mandated by the federal government every year which is absolutely useless information with the appropriate caution. The problem with the HMIS data is that many of our largest shelters only recently began reporting. WCPN did a short story about this report that you can hear at this location.

This report can be used to look at the demographics of families using the shelters, but not for an accurate estimate of that population. The doubled up data is from 2006, so that was not at the height of the foreclosure crisis, but it is a good snapshot. Some good numbers to use for planning purposes include:
  • Average family size is three people.
  • More than three quarters (85%) of the families using the shelters were Black/African American. (Higher than our numbers for other populations).
  • The average length of stay was 51 days with a median of 21 days.
  • 75% of the families had only used the shelter once in the three years.
  • The two most often mentioned reasons for homelessness were unemployment and inability to pay the rent/mortgage.
  • Almost half of the families stayed less than one month, and 80% stayed less than 3 months.
  • 15% of the poor children in Cuyahoga County were doubled up.
  • 56% live in an apartment doubled up while the other 44% live in a house.
  • More than 75% lived doubled up in the City of Cleveland.
Some of the suspect data include the number of male headed households, which is based on the rules of the shelters locally not the need. There was really only one facility that reports numbers that even allows a male headed household to stay in the shelter. Since there are no shelters outside Cleveland it is difficult to measure the homeless problem in the suburbs especially East Cleveland. There were less than 15% of the population reporting being a victim of domestic violence, but that has to do with our local definition of a victim. Those who flee a home and try to avoid shelter for a year staying with family and friends would not be listed as a victim of domestic violence when they eventually showed up at the shelter.

The white paper looks at some other cities which for the most part are good models except in Columbus Ohio. I do not understand why Columbus is used as a good model since they do not have a plan for how to serve families, and the problem is growing in Ohio's capital. The reports references the bogus 40% drop in homelessness in Columbus, which was actually a clever trick to redefine homelessness and not actually house homeless families. They do a good job marketing themselves, but in my opinion they are far behind in providing help to homeless people. The white paper also references suspect researchers like Dennis Culhane who forced HUD to focus time and money on long term single adults to the detriment of families who found themselves homeless. I would put his work in the same genre as Malcolm Gladwell as science for the masses or science that sounds good, but does not work in practice. Every time I see Culhane cited as a reference it casts doubt on that section of the document. My last criticism is that the document almost exclusively references the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which is only one national perspective. There are many other groups in DC who have a much different impression of the problems associated with homelessness and the researchers never look at that information. For example, the constant arrests made in some cities only prolong homelessness for many people including the heads of households. The rules that shelters have adopted often break down families, but those problems and others are not mentioned.

Back to the good parts of the report which include the relationship with foreclosures. There was good information about what happens to people who leave shelter. The transitional shelters do not come out looking very good in this report. More than half leave only because they have completed the program with 23% leaving because they violated program rules. So, this means that very few were leaving to go into independent housing. This is the reason that HUD and local leaders are moving away from transitional shelters. I like that they make recommendations at the end of the document except that I do not agree with all of them. Their first recommendation is to open up the counting system. The problem is that the shelters have wide disparities in respecting people's privacy. We cannot track down where data is leaking if the system is opened, and who do we hold responsible if personal data is released? I agree with the other recommendations especially looking at the costs of homelessness (Don't use Culhane as an example!!!). The conclusions and some of the other suggestions are very helpful, and I hope that community leaders actually read them. Keeping Families Housed and ending homelessness is the most important conclusion in the document and are critical points that we all need to keep our eye on this big picture every day.

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1 comment:

Berchta said...

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