Friday, April 22, 2011

This just in from HUD: only ten unsheltered families in San Francisco. Yeah, right.

HUD's latest complete "Point-In-Time" (PIT) data set on homeless people is posted for download as of today. The total pages say "2010" but the data is actually from the count night of January 27, 2009. Our local totals contain at least one piece of alleged data that is making my head explode.

[UPDATE: So, OK, the local report that appeared with the original 2009 homelessness count noted many of the limitations I'm noting here -- but it still participated in a system that produced unrealistic figures. Also, it's a little confusing whether the April 2009 news stories here and here refer to an early version of the same San Francisco figures. The totals seem different.]

Our local total sheet, for San Francisco, is here. Remarkably, it claims that as of January 27, 2009, we had a total of only 5823 people who were in some sense homeless: 2056 people in emergency shelter, plus 825 people in transitional housing, plus just 2942 people "unsheltered," of whom 1808 were "chronically homeless." (That's such a clever phrase for turning an economic status into a disease.)

Much more remarkably, it claims that, as of the count date on January 27, 2009, the number of unsheltered "households with adults and children" was... drumroll please... ten. Yes, a grand total of ten households consisting of 25 people altogether. Because, as even the numbest of gimboid bureaucrats should realize, homeless parents with any sense at all are very very scared of letting authorities find out they have children because Child Protective Services has the idea that it's worse for kids to live with their own family in a car than to live with strangers in a foster home.

Or am I reading this wrong? If I am could somebody please explain why?

The U.S. national totals are here: 649,879 people, consisting of 408,258 "households with only individuals," by which they mean grownups, and 241,621 households with children. It claims that, among these people, only 246,338 were "unsheltered," as opposed to staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing. I have trouble believing that, don't you?

Main PIT report data page is here, if you want to look up your own area. (Reports for localities are by "Continuum of Care," i.e. regional or city attempt at coordination.)

Probably no need to add by now that the PIT is often considered an undercount. Apart from really really not counting scared homeless families, it counts the subset of homeless people who have responded to homelessness by turning to institutions for shelter or by visibly spending nights in public places. Except that people who cope with homelessness most successfully tend not to be walking around or letting their camps be noticed in the middle of the night. Which leads officials and middle-class newspaper readers to conclude that homeless people lack creativity and independence and/or tend to be addicted or physically frail.

I knew a long-term camper who got counted by pure chance in I think it must have been the PIT count of 2005 or 2006. He said he was camped with a lot of other people behind a fence along the warehouse end of Seventh Street in San Francisco. His dog needed a walk in the middle of the night, so, being a devoted pet owner, there he was out with his dog on Seventh Street when the PIT census team came along. To his bemusement, he was officially counted and interviewed. It was basic street code that he didn't mention his neighbors on the other side of the fence -- these were authorities of a kind, after all. The counters moved on, happy to have found someone to count.

And then the counters fed their data to the big computer, and the computer turned out the official policy-driving facts of homelessness.

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