[Hpn] HOMELESSNESS UP in DC & USA, indicators show (fwd)

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Sun, 18 Feb 2001 16:04:21 -0800 (PST)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A11565-2001Feb15.html FWD Washington Post - Friday, February 16, 2001; Page A01 INDICATORS SHOW D.C. HOMELESSNESS GETTING WORSE By Serge F. Kovaleski and Sewell Chan Washington Post Staff Writers Six years after an ambitious partnership was launched to combat homelessness in the District, outreach agencies, shelters and soup kitchens are reporting a growing number of adults in need of services, signaling an increase in what is already one of the highest homeless rates in the nation. New data and anecdotal evidence provided by dozens of homeless service providers contradict the official estimates of the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, the nonprofit entity that has managed services for the homeless in Washington since 1994 and has spent about $20 million a year in federal and District funds. The partnership had estimated that the number of homeless men, who make up more than half the city's total homeless population, had dropped by as much as half since 1996. But the nonprofit, which has been criticized by front-line workers for understating the magnitude of the overall problem, now acknowledges it overestimated the decline. The number of homeless women with children also has risen -- more than 150 await placement in shelters -- even as the partnership has touted its success in creating more temporary housing as a step toward self-sufficiency. The extent of homelessness in the city and the inadequacy of available services have attracted newfound attention after the deaths of five adults this winter in the cold in Northwest Washington. The fatalities exposed cracks in the system of care and highlighted the challenges in aiding homeless men and women. New concern over the acute prevalence of homelessness in the District is bolstered by a report the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to present to Congress this spring. The findings, based on shelter records from 1999, show that the District ranked first among 13 jurisdictions surveyed in the percentage of the population that was homeless at some point that year. In 1999, 7,493 people, or 1.4 percent of Washington's population, were homeless at one point, compared with rates of 0.9 percent in Philadelphia, 0.8 percent in New York City and 0.4 percent in Montgomery County. But the actual number is likely to be even higher, experts say, because the federal study counted only shelters. Counting people living in or awaiting transitional housing, and formerly homeless individuals residing in permanent housing because of disabilities, the partnership estimates that 12,700 people, or 2.2 percent of the population, were homeless at some point in 1999. The situation in the District appears to play out in other major metropolitan areas: A 1999 U.S. Conference of Mayors survey of 25 other cities reported that requests for emergency shelter increased 15 percent, and requests for emergency food assistance rose 17 percent. In the District's case, experts point to an array of reasons for the worsening problem. The causes include the decline of affordable housing because of the economic boom, a breakdown in government services for substance abusers and the mentally ill, cuts in public assistance and the unique character of the nation's capital, which makes it a magnet for troubled adults who often come to the District seeking redress from the government. Several looming developments make the future appear grimmer, particularly for families. Roughly 10,000 housing units will be pulled out of the federal rent subsidy program in the next three years as landlords move to cash in on market-rate rents. Meanwhile, an estimated 4,700 households receiving welfare will lose eligibility by the end of next year. Experts note that the District has been slow to set up job-readiness and training services to help those adults prepare for an uncertain future. But already, front-line workers are describing a distinct spike in requests for services from the homeless. More homeless women with children have been asking for assistance over the last year at the Community for Creative Non-Violence, the city's largest shelter. Terri Bishop, the shelter's executive director, also pointed to a sizable increase in people returning to homelessness after fleeting successes in finding a job and housing while curtailing drug or alcohol use. At other nonprofits, program directors say resources are taxed by an increase in the number of people who become homeless because treatment for substance abuse or mental illness is lacking. Overall, said Brian Anders, a worker at Neighbors' Consejo, an outreach organization in Mount Pleasant, "the numbers, particularly of single Latino men, are dramatically increasing." He added, "We are also getting a lot more people from surrounding jurisdictions, like Montgomery, Fairfax and Arlington counties." Anders said Consejo now serves on average 75 to 100 dinners a night; two years ago, it distributed about 60 meals. "People are going to fall through the cracks and die, and the cracks are going to get wider," he said. "If these outreach groups stopped the little band-aid work we are doing, there would be homeless folks everywhere." Gunther Stern, executive director of the Georgetown Ministry Center, said his outreach organization deals with about 400 people annually, compared with 300 clients three or four years ago. The overall numbers, however, remain below the 600 adults the group was seeing in 1990. Among social scientists, accurately counting the number of homeless is a notoriously difficult task. The most common estimates try to count all the people who are "literally" homeless -- on streets or in shelters -- at a single point in time. Such measures are criticized for overlooking the intermittently homeless and overestimating the chronically homeless. Moreover, any study will miss the "hidden" homeless, who stay in automobiles or makeshift housing or temporarily double up with friends or relatives. Since homelessness emerged as a national issue in the early 1980s, there have been only a handful of efforts to conduct a count in the District: 2,652 found in a 1987 study by the Urban Institute, 4,400 found in emergency shelters by the 1990 Census, and 7,373 found by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 1991. The partnership today believes there are 6,600 homeless people on a given day, 600 of whom live on the street. That figure -- derived from overflow counts at shelters, estimates by outreach workers and anecdotal evidence -- is "not that scientific," said J. Stephen Cleghorn, the organization's deputy director. "When we report our figures, we always have a lot of footnotes, because otherwise it wouldn't really be honest," Cleghorn said. Cleghorn said he still believes there has been some drop in shelter use. "It's not an artifact of numbers, but it's not something to jump up and shout about either," he said. Although experts concur that there is a marked increase in the homeless population, a legacy of poor record-keeping makes it impossible to say definitively whether homelessness has lessened since the 1994 start of the D.C. Initiative, the federal-local experiment to turn over services for the homeless to community-based organizations. The city lacks a computerized system to track shelter users, although HUD has required all cities receiving homeless services grants to install such a system by 2003. The pending HUD study relies on a new method that tracks who uses shelters over the course of a year and for how long, said Dennis P. Culhane, an associate professor of social welfare policy at the University of Pennsylvania and the report's lead author. "The Washington numbers have the most estimation in them" because the partnership keeps records manually and uses an estimate for the population of CCNV, which the partnership does not fund. Counting the homeless can be inherently political. Brian Carome, the executive director of Project Northstar, a literacy and tutoring program for homeless and other children, contended that the District has a "vested interest" in saying that homelessness has been ameliorated to show that the problem has been addressed successfully. For its part, the partnership says its estimate is derived from figures provided by the organizations it funds. "Bring the data and let's reconcile: We're open," said Executive Director Sue A. Marshall. "We're not trying to low-ball it. There's no reason for us to substitute our judgment from here for that of a front-line outreach worker." END FORWARD **In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.** Visit HPN for CONSTANTLY UPDATING NEWS on Homeless People: *************************************************************** Over 10,000 articles by or via homeless & ex-homeless people Been Homeless? Then JOIN! EMAIL Tom Boland <wgcp@earthlink.net> Nothing About Us Without Us - Democratize Public Policy ***************************************************************