Street Numbers and Fake HUD Reports

"Honey, I know that it is below zero and we are long ago divorced, but why don't you stay on my couch for this week because I still care about you and don't want you to die."  This may be the reason the numbers released in the latest HUD report do not match reality.  For the last two years, HUD has released numbers for a count that took place at the end of January showing declining numbers of homeless people.  Both years, the count has taken place during the coldest weeks in the Midwest and mid atlantic states.  It is no mystery that the counts decreased over the last few years, because Americans are not cold hearted mean people.  We take people inside if it is bitterly cold.  We put people up on our sofas or basements if it gets too cold, and then those individuals suddenly and magically disappear from the count of being homeless in America. 

Pam Fesler continues her quest to explain the unexplainable to Americans on NPR with another series of stories about homeless people.  Fesler's eventual goal with her stories are to eventually answer the question: how do we have so many people without housing in a country of such wealth? A few cities were like the New York Times story that the hometown is bucking the trend with higher numbers.  Cincinnati reported the same. Many papers wrote about the decline, but very few of the stories talked about how flawed the numbers are or that this is a one day number so what does that mean for a year? If homelessness is only short term state with average length of stay between 19 days and 55 days as in Cleveland, how does one cold day in January mean anything?  What trend could ever be established by counting homeless people one day out of 365? Even the Al Jazeera story did not mention how crazy counting homeless people was in the United States and they are usually pretty good about pointing out the obvious flaws in American culture and how the media fails to see the forest for the trees. 

NPR also looked at the devestation that is known as Skid Row this week.  In an effort to comfort Mayors throughout the United States, NPR did another story which could be headlined:  "It could be way worse look at Los Angeles...or you think you have problems at least you are not Mayor of Los Angeles...or lets try declaring an emergency to see if that will work because nothing else has."  What happens if you declare a state of emergency and no one cares?  Will a future disaster declaration be ignored because we are now calling homelessness a disaster?  Did the victims of Superstorm Sandy get timely help after New York and parts of New Jersey were declared disasters?  Did the Katrina disaster declaration make New Orleans whole?  I am not sure what this trick will do much for homeless people in Los Angeles.  There is no interest at the federal level of spending more money to help homeless people, so what does this do?  Local officials have announced $150 million for affordable housing from the local community.  In a huge city like Los Angeles with a huge population of homeless people and after years of neglect of the social safety net and affordable housing stock, $150 million will not make one bit of difference.  Housing is so expensive to build and maintain especially in the Los Angeles area, and we need a "moon shot" or Eisenhower building the highways type goal from the federal government to begin to show results.  Fighting this city by city with small allocations is a losing battle that will only lead to long lines and a great deal of frustration.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Weekly Update on Homeless Stories in the News



Here are a few interesting news stories about homelessness from the last week.  Click on the blue text to view the source article.

by Dan the Intern

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County Staff and Providers Discuss Homelessness

The County is the caretaker of much of the assistance for homeless people in Cuyahoga County.  We receive around $24 million in funding for homelessness and housing programs.  County staff complete the application for funding, and do a very good job of following all the rules to maximize our allocation.  While nearly every other city in Ohio has faced a loss of funding because of problems with their application, Cuyahoga County has never had this issue.  They could do a better job of overseeing the shelters use of these funds, but that is another post. Every jurisdiction that receives homeless funding must have a local committee to oversee the funds.  In Cuyahoga County, this group is the Office of Homeless Services Advisory Board.  There is a committee called the "Review and Ranking committee" which forwards the list to the Cuyahoga Council for approval.

This year, the federal government required the County Continuum committee to approve a plan for how to count homeless people on January 27, 2015.  This "Point in Time" count is the dumbest thing done by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.  There are a huge number of problems with the count including that it does harm to the homeless community by dramatically under-representing the number in a community.  The Homeless Coalition representatives both voted against the plan.  No one else joined in opposing the plan to attempt to "count" homeless people.  We would have no problem if federal government wanted to count the number living in shelters in Cleveland.  We can all trust that data, and we know that would be accurate.  Once they open it up to counting people outside on one night the data is useless.  Our issues with the Point in Time Count are:

  • The media and elected official misunderstand this data and regularly inaccurately portray this as some kind of census of homeless people.  There is no way to make the leap between one day and the number for a year.  It is factually flawed.
  • It violates all rules of collecting statistics for research.  To make this leap from those who you see on the streets to actually measuring a point in time stretches reality.  The variables of abandoned buildings, RTA rapid transit and buses, and hospital waiting rooms where homeless people may be staying make it impossible to do an actual point in time count.
  • Most of the other similar sized cities estimate the number of homeless people while Cleveland does not.  This makes it look like we have a tiny population compared to other cities.  They lie and we are honest locally. 
  • This exaggeration by other cities harms Cuyahoga County funding.  We get fewer resources because we have theoretically reduced the number of people sleeping outside.
  • No matter how great a job we do in serving homeless people (and we are doing a pretty good job), we are still the second or third poorest city in America.  With so many living in poverty, there are going to be many people struggling with housing. 

In other news, we heard that neighbors have filed a lawsuit to stop the next Permanent Supportive Housing project from going forward.  This will slow down the development of affordable housing for disabled homeless people in Cleveland.   It will cost additional funds to defend this lawsuit to overturn the building permit issued by the City of Cleveland. 

Shelter numbers for 2014 were released and we will post those on our website, because we trust those numbers.

The County limited the scope of the Public Policy committee to focus on a couple of narrow items.  There are huge issues in our community that shelter providers and social service groups should consider and layout a plan.  There are huge issues such as the explosion in family homelessness, the relationship between police and homeless people, problems with mentally ill homeless people, and recognizing and better serving victims of human trafficking in the women's shelters.  The providers are busy dealing with the crisis of homelessness everyday, and just don't have the time to weigh in on solutions.

There is still funding available to renovate the local shelters from the State of Ohio.  There are four projects going forward, but there is still funding available to help improve the facilities of local shelters. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Random Thoughts

Dallas spent years in court and had to pay the legal fees of a local church over feeding of homeless people. Dallas had to pay $225,000 settlement to the Big Hart Ministries and are not allowed to restrict access to food. Are you listening Ft. Lauderdale and the other cities in Florida?

I came across a sad documentary about an advertising executive named Brian Davis from London England.  Not a good ending, but a poignant story about the in ability to find help with mental illness and substance abuse. 

HUD discusses the "Limitations" of their point in time counts then they proceed to make conclusions based on this limited data. 

"The good news is that, nationally, we are continuing to see decreases in key areas like homelessness among veterans and chronic homelessness."  This is incorrect.  It should say that we are continuing to see decreases on one random day of the year.  The problem with this data is that it is so flawed, no one should make any broader point except that on one day in January homelessness decreased. 

Remember the Homeless Memorial day and Candlelight Vigil is Sunday at 7 p.m. at Metanoia.  If you want to make sure that we read the names of individuals who may have passed away over the last year give us a call (216/432-0540) and talk to Joyce.   Please join us for this important event.

Who is going to pay for Permanent Supportive housing?  California and some other cities in the United States want to use Health care dollars to pay for housing.   As we have said many times, there were no long term plans for how to fund these programs.  The tenants are disabled and will not be able to contribute much to their housing, and are unlikely that they will move out.  They need 24 hours of case management and that is expensive.  So where will the money come from to support these units?  It is a good idea that health care dollars go to support these units, because without this housing these people would be living on the streets and using the emergency room.  The problem is that government does not always do what make sense especially in a timely manner. 

Thanks to Brian Henke for helping organize the 12th Woodchopper's Ball this weekend at the Kent Stage.  We made over $3,000 for the organization.  Brian is a fantastic guitarist and he has a number of CDs available for sale. 

Atlanta caught an alleged serial killer of homeless people.  The man killed four homeless individuals, two while they were sleeping.  The suspect was arrested for jumping a transit fare, and then identified as a suspect in two murders of homeless people.   After interviews, he was charged with the murder of two other individuals in Atlanta. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Guest Post: City Mission Official Gives Other Side of Housing First

A New Class of Chronically Homeless?

by Rich Trickel, CEO of the City Mission in Cleveland.

On September 16, 2014, Northeast Ohio Media Group published the article “Housing First Opens Newest Apartments in Work to End Homelessness” by reporter Tom Feran. Certainly this is cause for celebration—the new building with its 65 subsidized studio apartments will be a godsend to some chronically homeless individuals. Furthermore, the article goes on to say that as a result of the last 8 years of housing first in Cleveland, chronic homelessness has been reduced by 73%! Since the reality on the ground where I am isn’t even close to that claim, I tried to find out where that stat come from and how it was calculated. How can a city whose shelters are currently overwhelmed with homeless families state that chronic homelessness has decreased by 73%?

The first clue in understanding the dramatic claims made by housing first advocates is to understand the meaning of “chronic homelessness.” HUD has segmented the homeless into categories, assigned definitions, and focused their strategy and therefore, their resources on only one group – chronically homeless. To be chronically homeless you are an unaccompanied homeless person (single, alone, not part of a family, not accompanied by children); with a diagnosable substance abuse disorder, a serious mental illness, or a developmental disability; and have been continuously homeless for a year or more, or have had 4 episodes of homelessness in the last 3 years. To put this in perspective, there are approximately 600,000 homeless individuals in the US on any given night; only 20% will qualify as chronically homeless. So the primary strategy set by the government to eliminate homelessness, the strategy that is being embraced by almost every major metropolitan area, is only focused on 20% of all homeless people. Furthermore, the largest growing segment of the homeless - women & children, do not fit the definition and are therefore not counted and not able to access the resources dedicated to the chronically homeless.

It’s also helpful to understand how a statistic like a 73% reduction in chronic homelessness was even computed—not by a careful day-by-day count of all homeless, but by a single count on a single night in January. This is called the Annual Point In Time Count. Then, based on that single night comparison over time, the claim – a  73% reduction—is made. Can a single count on one cold January night accurately represent anything?

And there’s another problem. Not only is the majority of energy and attention focused on this small segment of the homeless, but most available resources are as well. In Cleveland, the majority of dollars provided to battle homelessness have been spent on permanent supportive housing – housing only available to the designated chronically homeless. Because of this, a number of facilities serving homeless women and children have been forced to close, resulting in the growing numbers of homeless women and children. And it’s not just happening in Cleveland – Washington DC is bracing for a 16% increase in family homelessness this winter, the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance is reporting a 60% increase in homeless families over the last few years and a 108% increase in unaccompanied homeless kids and the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention in Indianapolis reports a 19% increase in family homelessness.

It’s time to take a long hard look. Are we unintentionally creating a new class of chronically homeless individuals – women and children as a result of the current housing first policy? When confronted with the reality most cities are facing right now, why do we continue to insist housing first is the only effective strategy to ending homelessness? How long will we ignore the growing numbers of homeless women and children flooding our cities?

Rich Trickel, CEO of the City Mission, can be reached at 216/287-9187.  We welcome comments to this post by clicking on the "Post a Comment" below this journal entry. Note that Cuyahoga County Officials and the Housing First Initiative were invited to submit a response.

Guest posts reflect the opinions of the authors and not necessarily of NEOCH.

Nice Article on the Flaws of Point in Time Counts

The Institute on Children, Poverty and Homelessness have a nice article on their blog regarding the bad information distributed by HUD with their annual point in time counts.  We agree with this national agency, and do not participate in the local point in time count done by the County.  Our biggest issue is that both the media, national groups, and the federal government manipulates and distorts this data to dramatically underestimate the population.  They publish a report that has 20 pages of qualifiers about how bad the data is and how it cannot be translated to a yearly count, but in the end all that is lost when the information is tweeted to the public.  The ICPH correctly identifies many of the flaws with this data, the biggest problem is the dramatic undercount in families and the problems in not being able to recognize trends with a one day count.  We encourage people to bookmark their blog and check in with this group regularly.

Brian

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.