In the next two weeks, volunteers across the country will set out to conduct a count of all homeless persons in their communities. Though it may be too late sign up to volunteer in your community’s 2015 Point-in-Time Count (here in D.C., volunteer registration is already closed), you can still help us out at the Alliance.
Every year the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities to conduct sheltered counts of people living in emergency shelter or transitional housing. Every other year, HUD requires communities to conduct unsheltered counts of people living in a place unfit for human habitation (such as in an abandoned building or in a park). This year is one of the years that both counts are required, so every community will be conducting both a sheltered and an unsheltered count.
Here at the Alliance, we track this data as it is released. Different communities release their count data at different times, and we want to know which communities are reporting an increase in homelessness and which ones are reporting a decrease. Of course, there are a lot of communities across the nation, so we can’t do this without your help.
Next week, volunteers and homeless service providers around the country will venture into wooded areas, under bridges, city parks, and subway lines in order to look for people living outdoors. This nationwide effort is designed to get the best possible “point-in-time” count of people experiencing homelessness – those living in shelters, transitional housing programs, or in places unintended for human habitation – on one given night.
We have seen too often that they will miss a very important segment of the homeless population: homeless youth.
There are many reasons homeless youth are missed in Point-in-Time Counts. Some are complicated and difficult to overcome. Youth may be spending the night with a stranger and are not on the street during the point-in-time count. Many will go to great lengths to avoid appearing homeless and may be reluctant to share their housing status with a stranger. Some youth under the age of 18 may fear child welfare involvement and so they may avoid interacting with people who might alert social service agencies to their lack of housing.
Young people who are out on the streets at night can't always be found in the same locations where homeless adults are found. Often they are not using the same social service programs, and many of those programs do not report data to the community’s Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS). To conductive a youth-inclusive count, communities will have to modify their traditional counting strategies. But in the meantime, here some easy steps for communities to implement for next week’s count:
The city of New Orleans has come a long way in the nine or so years since the surging waters of Hurricane Katrina devastated large swaths of the city and displaced more than 400,000 of its residents. Before Katrina, a little more than 2,000 people experienced homelessness on a given night. By 2007, that number swelled to more than 11,500.
After Hurricane Katrina, homelessness skyrocketed in New Orleans as a result of the destruction of much of the housing stock and the disappearance of jobs. But in the intervening years, through incredible work by leaders in that community and others around the country, the number of people living on the streets, in shelters, and in abandoned buildings has declined significantly.
As of January 2014, the number people in Jefferson and Orleans parishes who experience homelessness on a given night had declined to 1,981 people. The homeless service system in New Orleans has become a national model for street outreach, landlord outreach, targeting of permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing, and other strategies for fighting homelessness.
Last week the city reached a new and historic milestone when Mayor Landrieu announced that New Orleans had ended homelessness among veterans. Ending veteran homelessness is, of course, a major goal of “Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.” Under Opening Doors, the benchmark date set for ending veteran homelessness is the end of 2015.
Here at the Alliance, we love solid research on homelessness. Strong studies of homeless populations give our policy team and our advocates the ammunition they need to make compelling arguments to lawmakers about the necessity of support for homeless persons.
But homeless populations arguably are one of the most difficult populations to study, because they are often transient, lack consistent contact information, and may not want to identify themselves as homeless. For this reason, one of the most valuable types of research on homelessness is actually research about research.
Confused? Allow me to explain. The value of research is dependent on the way researchers go about conducting it (i.e. its methodology). The better the methodology of the research, the more useful the researcher’s findings will be, both for policymakers and other researchers. So it’s really important that researchers develop strong methodologies.
With this goal in mind, many researchers are actually studying methodologies themselves, instead of studying particular populations. In other words: rather than studying homeless youth themselves, researchers might examine the best methods to study homeless youth. That way, they and other researchers will have solid methodologies on which to base future studies of homeless youth.
With today’s guest blog post, we would like to introduce you to five homeless assistance professionals who spent several weeks learning about homeless assistance practices in England. They traveled there as participants in the Transatlantic Practice Exchange program, which was coordinated jointly by the Alliance and Homeless Link and generously funded by the Oak Foundation. This post provides just a quick look at what they learned. For more detail, please check out their reports on the Alliance website.