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Number Of Homeless Declines Again, But Gains Aren't Universal

Stashed in: Children, Awesome, America!, Poverty, Homeless

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Although homelessness overall seems to be receding from its high-water mark, and homeless veterans and families are being housed at a higher rate, improvement is uneven.

An eye opener: nearly a quarter of the homeless are under 18:

The tally found that 610,042 people were homeless on that night, reflecting a drop of nearly 4 percent from 2012 to 2013, the agency says. Of that number, 36 percent — 222,197 people — were in families, representing a drop of 7 percent for that group.

More than a third of all homeless people (35 percent) were living in spots such as abandoned buildings and cars, or under bridges, the report says. As with all the data we're mentioning, that number includes children; nearly a quarter of America's homeless are under 18, according to HUD.

This coincides with the stat that 23% of U.S. children live in poverty:

20 percent of homeless people were in either New York City (11 percent of the U.S. total) or Los Angeles (9 percent).


A big surprise for me was that my county, Santa Clara, has MORE homeless people than San Francisco! It's just that SF county is like 50 square miles while Santa Clara county is like 1000.

I led a regional, information collaboration project in LA and Orange Counties back in the early 00s that included several local governments and 208 non-profits.  I learned quite a bit about the homeless and how we care for them through that work.  At that time LA County had the highest homeless count (~111,000) in the country.  

The annual homeless count in 550+ locally designated Continuums of Care is tied to and driven by HUD funding.  Congress was concerned about receiving inflated counts and then instituted the McKinney Vento act, which mandated that all service providers institute and use a single Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) in their Continuums to reduce possibilities for duplication in those annual count numbers (i.e. a soup kitchen and a shelter would both count the same person without HMIS, etc.).  This produced initial declines in reported homelessness throughout these regions and in aggregate after HMIS implementations were made.

Even though we are long past the early implementation and use of HMIS across the US, the annual count remains a locally independent exercise to secure federal funding.  It shouldn't be confused with the real analysis and verifiable gains or losses in homelessness at the local level.  For example, gains in reducing homelessness are always uneven and never universal, being segmented into three distinct market groups, as per many municipal and non-profits working with them:

1. Transitional or situational

2. Cyclical or episodic

3. Chronic

So speaking only about "the homeless" without differentiation and as some lump sum category based on an annual count isn't really helpful or revealing to the underlying reality of whether or not things are getting better or worse at the street level.  

It was also interesting to learn how one municipality in California had achieved a superlative record in reducing homeless populations in their district--they put their homeless on busses and bought them one way tickets to LA.

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