New Housing Data Misses the Mark on Family Homelessness
Washington – Advocates for homeless children and youth say the annual estimate of homelessness in the United States released yesterday by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is misleading and underestimates family and youth homelessness.
HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report Part II, an estimate and description of homeless Americans presented each year to Congress, reported 502,521 sheltered families with children in 2015, a 6.1 percent increase since 2007.
In contrast, public schools, as reported by the Department of Education identified 1,301,239 homeless children and youth in the 2013-2014 school year, a 100 percent increase from the 2006-2007 school year. Head Start programs also reported a significant increase in the numbers of homeless children identified by Head Start programs, from 26,200 homeless children in 2007-2008, to 50,219 in 2014-2015, and increasing by 3% between 2013-2014 and 2015-2016.
HUD’s estimates focus on shelter occupancy, which is inappropriate for families and youth because:
- HUD 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 other outdoor locations. They are less likely to sleep in bus stations, parks, etc. because they fear referrals to child protective services. Unaccompanied youth can face victimization on the streets. Families and youth are much 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 makes no effort to count them.
Department of Education data includes children and youth in these hidden locations, which are unstable and very often unsafe. HUD excludes these children and youth in its estimates and fails to prioritize their needs. As Congress considers policies to address family homelessness in the 115th session, it should require HUD to adopt a more accurate definition of homelessness for children and youth, and honor local communities’ local assessments of their needs.
The First Focus Campaign for Children, the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, and the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare released the following statements in response to HUD’s release:
“Homeless children and youth find themselves in many situations, and all have experienced trauma,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus Campaign for Children. “The report is a missed opportunity to identify all homeless children and youth in the U.S. so we can realize the true need. Homeless children and youth can’t wait any longer to receive the support they deserve.”
“The nation’s public schools, including early childhood education programs such as Head Start, 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. “To categorize these children and youth as merely ‘housing unstable,’ as does today’s report, both mischaracterizes their living situations and implies that they are less vulnerable than other homeless children and youth. Nothing could be further from the truth. The urgency of child and youth homelessness requires that HUD Homeless Assistance be redesigned to meet the unique developmental needs of children and youth.”
“The AHAR is simply a report of how many homeless people are contacted through an impressive, elaborate street outreach effort conducted once a year through the Point in Time events nationwide,” said Ruth White, executive director of National Center for Housing and Child Welfare. “The obvious discrepancy between the AHAR 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 the AHAR and indeed, the purpose of the PIT counts.”
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 a priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit www.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 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.