A new report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) shows that homelessness in the United States ticked up by roughly 3 percent in 2019, but advocacy groups say that the figures grossly underestimate the number of homeless youth and families.
As communities across the United States gear up for the annual point-in-time count of people experiencing homelessness, HUD sent members of Congress part one of the Annual Homeless Assessment Report, which contains estimates of the number of people experiencing homelessness nationally, by state and by community.
Approximately 568,000 people experienced homelessness on a single night toward the end of January in 2019, according to the report. That was up slightly from 2018, with much of the increase driven by western states like California, Hawaii, Washington and Oregon. New York and Washington, D.C., also have some of the highest rates of homelessness per 10,000 people.
But advocacy organizations say that there are significant flaws in the methodology of the counts that result in an undercount of homeless children, youth and families.
HUD figures show a 5 percent decrease in the number of parents and children who were homeless in 2019, but those numbers are much lower than estimates of homeless children coming out of the Department of Education.
According to a press release, public schools found more than 1.5 million homeless students during the 2017-18 school year, which constituted a 10 percent increase compared to the 2016-17 school year.
Point-in-time counts are a rough approximation of homelessness based on the number of people in shelters and those found by volunteers who scour communities in the wee hours of the morning to find people sleeping rough.
That means that they miss people who are doubled up or sleeping in motels. Children who live in such conditions are considered homeless under the McKinney-Vento Act, and qualify for additional supports in their local schools as a result.
“HUD’s definition of homelessness are derived from a scarcity framework — one that misconstrues the severity of the issue in the name of limited resources,” said Melinda Giovengo, chief executive officer of YouthCare, a Seattle-based nonprofit that serves homeless youth.
“As a result, these numbers create a gross distortion that ignores the reality of homelessness and housing instability for millions of people across the country, especially young people,” Giovengo said.
Homelessness in the United States has become a highly politicized issue. The Trump administration is using the homelessness crisis on the West Coast as a cudgel against cities led by Democrats such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
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