Agency’s Homelessness Data Misleading, Advocates Say

For Immediate Release: October 30, 2014

Contacts: Ed Walz, First Focus Campaign for Children, 202-657-0685
Barbara Duffield, National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, 202-549-7668
Sarah Knutsen, National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, 202-638-2535
Darla Bardine, National Network For Youth, 202-783-7949
Ruth White, National Center for Housing & Child Welfare, 301-699-0151

Washington – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today released its Annual Homeless Assessment Report, a count and description of homeless Americans presented each year to Congress. The report is based on counts taken at homeless shelters, as well as counts taken by volunteers who survey streets, parks, light rail stations and tunnels, all-night businesses, and other places frequented by homeless people. HUD reports a 15 percent drop in homelessness among families with children from 2010-2014, directly contradicting U.S. Department of Education data released in September, showing an increase in homeless K-12 students of 18 percent from school years 2010-2011 to 2012-2013. Advocates for families and youth reacted today by challenging HUD to correct three serious deficiencies that call into question the report’s value

1. HUD doesn’t look in the places homeless families and youth can be found – Homeless families and youth are less likely to go to shelters – partly because shelter policies often exclude two-parent families and families with adolescent boys, so going to a shelter means separating the family. Youth who are homeless on their own avoid adult shelters because of safety concerns. And families are less likely to go to the other places (bus stations, parks, etc.) where HUD counts because they are afraid of having their children removed from their custody. But HUD makes no effort to count homeless families and youth who are staying for the night in a motel that they pay for, staying with others because they have nowhere to go, or otherwise out-of-sight.

2. HUD wouldn’t count homeless youth and families if they found them – HUD doesn’t consider most homeless children and youth homeless. HUD’s narrow homelessness definition excludes most kids who are not in shelters or on the streets. But with the U.S. Department of Education reporting nearly 1.3 million homeless children in K-12 schools, that narrow definition makes HUD’s data wildly inaccurate.

3. HUD’s shelter count measures capacity, not need – HUD’s primary count focuses on shelter occupancy and the number and availability of volunteers to count people who are visibly homeless on the streets and other outdoor locations. But shelters are often full, and many communities do not have shelters for families or youth. The number of volunteers and the quality of their efforts are not uniform. So HUD’s count is actually more a measure of shelter and volunteer capacity than actual need. This primary count excludes youth and families whose needs go unmet.

Congress is considering bipartisan legislation requiring HUD to adopt a more accurate definition of “homeless” and make homeless children and youth eligible for the same HUD assistance available to homeless adults. The Homeless Children and Youth Act is sponsored in the Senate by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and in the House of Representatives by Congressman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) and Congressman George Miller (D-Calif.). The bill has been referred to the congressional committees with jurisdiction – the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee.

A working group including the First Focus Campaign for Children the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the National Network For Youth, and the National Center for Housing & Child Welfare reacted to the HUD report’s release with a statement by First Focus Campaign for Children president Bruce Lesley:

“HUD’s defining homelessness in a way that excludes millions of people, including as many as a million children. And in the process, they’ve delivered Congress a report that’s practically useless. But especially on a problem as serious as child, youth, and family homelessness, Congress and the people who elected them deserve real answers. Fixing the problem starts with adopting an honest definition that reflects the reality of today’s homelessness.”

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The First Focus Campaign for Children is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization affiliated with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. The Campaign for Children advocates directly for legislative change in Congress to ensure children and families are the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visitwww.campaignforchildren.org.

NAEHCY is a national grassroots membership association dedicated to ensuring the school enrollment, attendance, and overall success for children and youth whose lives have been disrupted by the lack of safe, permanent and adequate housing. For more information, see www.naehcy.org.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) is a 501(c) 3 organization based in Washington, D.C. and founded in 1989 as the legal arm of the national movement to end and prevent homelessness. Through policy advocacy, public education, and impact litigation, NLCHP addresses the root causes of homelessness and seeks to meet both the immediate and long-term needs of homeless and poor people. Through training and support, NLCHP also enhances the capacity of local groups.

The National Network for Youth (NN4Y) is the nation’s leading network of runaway and homeless youth programs. The Network champions the needs of runaway, homeless, and other disconnected youth through strengthening the capacity of community-based services by facilitating resource sharing and educating the public and policy makers. NN4Y members work collaboratively to prevent youth homelessness and the inherent risks of living on the streets which includes victimization, exploitation, human trafficking, criminal justice involvement, lifetime homelessness or death. For more information, visit www.nn4youth.org.

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About the photos: Photos of children and youth experiencing homelessness provided by Diane Nilan, HEAR US Inc., used with permission. (c) 2012, Diane Nilan, HEAR US Inc.