Housing department’s count of homeless children and youth problematic

Washington – Advocates for homeless children and youth say the annual count of homeless children and youth released today by the Department of Housing and Urban Development is problematic and underestimates family and youth homelessness.

HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report Part I reported 127,787 homeless children under age 18 in the United States in January, a 5.8 percent decrease from 2014.

HUD’s “point-in-time” (PIT) count is intended to give an estimate of how many homeless Americans there are on one particular night. It includes families staying in homeless shelters, as well as families identified by volunteers who survey streets, parks, light rail stations and tunnels, all-night businesses, and other places frequented by homeless people.

The PIT count is a flawed method for measuring homelessness, particularly among families and youth, for the following reasons:

  • HUD’s count measures capacity, not need: Shelters are often full, and many communities do not have shelters, or have shelters that are inappropriate for the needs families or youth. Unaccompanied youth may avoid adult shelters because of safety concerns.
  • HUD does not look in the places most homeless families and youth can be found: Homeless families and youth are less likely than single adults to stay on the streets and the other outdoor locations that volunteer search because they fear referrals to child protective services. Unaccompanied homeless youth face victimization on the streets; as a result, they more often seek alternative places to stay.

Because staying on the streets is rarely an option, families and youth are more likely to stay temporarily with other people, or in motels. But HUD does not consider these homeless children and youth to be homeless, and therefore makes no effort to count them.

In contrast, public schools do consider children and youth in these hidden locations to be homeless. The Department of Education’s data is a more accurate assessment of trends in family and youth homelessness.

The Department of Education identified 1,301,239 homeless children and youth in the 2013-2014 school year, a 6.7 percent increase from the 2012-2013 school year.

Not only are most homeless children and youth not included in HUD’s PIT count, they also are not eligible for HUD homeless assistance. But Congress is considering a bipartisan bill, the Homeless Children and Youth Act (S. 256, H.R. 576), requiring HUD to adopt a more accurate definition of homelessness and make homeless children and youth eligible for the same assistance available to homeless adults.

“No child should ever be left without a home,” said Congressman Steve Stivers, (R-OH-15), who introduced the Homeless Children and Youth Act. “I am concerned that the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) statistics do not give a complete picture of the problem. Passage of the Homeless Children and Youth Act will streamline HUD’s definition of ‘homeless’ to ensure we can get all homeless children and youth the help they need.”

“Homeless children count, but the housing department does not count all homeless children in its annual survey, “said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus Campaign for Children. “There’s a record number of homeless children in American, but HUD is looking the other way, so homeless families stay homeless. It’s time to make homeless children a priority, and we need to start by adopting an honest definition of homelessness that reflects reality.”

“The nation’s public schools have witnessed a persistent increase in the numbers of homeless children and youth over the past decade,” said Barbara Duffield, Director of Policy and Programs for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. “Most of these children and youth are not outside in plain sight, nor are they in shelters; they are moving from place to place, in precarious situations that jeopardize their health and development. The urgency of child and youth homelessness requires an alignment of federal definitions of homelessness.”

“The Point in Time Count is simply a report of how many homeless people are contacted through an impressive, elaborate street outreach effort conducted once a year nationwide,” said Ruth White, executive director of National Center for Housing and Child Welfare. “The obvious discrepancy between PIT numbers and what any provider, public school employee, or American who regularly walks down a city street can see with their own eyes, calls into question the need for thePIT and indeed, the purpose of the PIT counts.”

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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, visit www.campaignforchildren.org.

NAEHCY is a national grassroots membership association dedicated to educational excellence for children and youth experiencing homelessness. Through state and federal policy and technical assistance to our members, students, and the public, NAEHCY changes systems so all children and youth can learn, succeed academically, and achieve their dreams.. For more information, see www.naehcy.org.

The National Center for Housing and Child Welfare (NCHCW) links housing resources and knowledge to child welfare agencies in order to improve family functioning, prevent family homelessness, and reduce the need for out-of-home placement. NCHCW also brings housing resources to child welfare agencies in order to ensure that older youth in foster care have a connection to permanent family as well as a solid plan for stable housing and services to help them be successful as adults.

Poverty & Family Economics Housing & Homelessness Press Release

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