Why I’ll Be Weary of the Next Homeless Count

There have been some interesting statements put out by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the Los Angeles Services Authority, and others, that homelessness throughout the nation is down—- by 1%.  Please do not believe everything you read or hear concerning this.  At our ground level on the streets of Skid Row, and in talking to people on the ground around the country, this is not the case.  Even as these reports have come out, 55 new tent cities have sprung up around our country.  In Camden, New Jersey alone, a challenging place to live even if you are housed, four brand new tent cities have sprung up.

Homelessness has gone off the charts – nearly out of control – as many Americans have found it hard to keep a place of their own.  I recently read of a church in Arroyo Grande, California, opening up their parking lot so that people living in cars could have a place to rest for the night, and the church is asking for partner churches around their area to join them.  People are living in tents, cars, and doubling and tripling up with friends and family.  Thousands of school children in LA and around the country are battling homelessness while the Federal Government, local governments, and foundations have decided to focus only on the chronically homeless and veterans, while leaving many, literally, out in the cold.

However, when the next homeless count comes out again, I expect the numbers to be down, and here is why:

The most simple part of this count (and this count can really only be described as an attempt at an educated guess) has always been a pretty accurate count of how many people are living in shelters and transitional housing.  That number has been steady, pretty accurate, and with the help of shelter leaders and staff has been a reliable number.  This number is much easier to track than the hidden people who are homeless in their tents, in the woods, in cars, or even the uncounted who are doubling and tripling up.  However, this easier to track number is going away.

Resources are moving and moving quickly, away from shelters and transitional housing beds, towards housing first initiatives, which is believed to be the new way to end homelessness.  See my earlier blogs for notes on this.  As the resources move, shelters, transitional housing, and the beds therein are being removed from the scene, and the numbers of precious people on the streets, in tents, and in cars continues to increase, however as the next count rolls out, the easier more accurate part of the count-those in shelter and transitional housing beds-will have dwindled, and the more difficult, nearly impossible part of the count, going out on the streets looking for people, will continue to be difficult, and it will appear, or be made to appear, that homelessness has decreased, when in fact, homelessness has increased.

Whether this future inaccuracy in counts will be determined by an ideology that is bent against shelter, transitional housing, recovery or even if it is done with the best of intentions, I want to assure you now, that I will wearily watch the results of the next count of people experiencing homelessness, and I will compare that to what I see and experience with my own eyes, and I’d advise you to do the same.

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