[Hpn] NCH's position on the Census and homelessness

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@hotmail.com
Mon, 02 Jul 2001 12:28:27 -0400

Below, FYI, is a forward of the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) 
position on the Census and homelessness which was just recently posted on 
their Web site.

Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont


Found at:

NCH's position on the Census and homelessness:


~~~Hosted at:

National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH):


-------Forwarded FYI-------

The 2000 Census and Homelessness

What is NCH's position on the 2000 Census and homelessness?

NCH believes that people without housing should be counted by the Census for 
the same reasons that people with housing should be counted -- in order to 
have more comprehensive demographic information about communities, including 
more accurate data on poverty.

However, NCH opposes a separate "count" of people in homeless situations 
because such a number would be, by its very nature, both inaccurate and 
misleading, and therefore lead to uninformed decision-making by 

A separate "homeless count" would be inaccurate because:

Logistically, it is impossible to count all the people experiencing 
homelessness at any point in time. Many people in homeless situations stay 
in locations unknown or unreachable by enumerators, such as abandoned 
buildings, campgrounds, cars, or share an accommodation temporarily with 
other people due lack of alternative arrangements (commonly referred to as 
"doubled up"). One national study of people who had experienced homelessness 
found that the most common places people stayed were vehicles; other common 
places were makeshift housing, such as tents, boxes, caves, or boxcars.

Data gathered from shelters only reflect the capacity of shelters (i.e. 
available shelter beds). Yet many shelters are full, and regularly turn 
people away due to lack of capacity. Last year the U.S. Conference of Mayors 
reported that 23 percent of requests for emergency shelter went unmet due to 
lack of available beds. In addition, many shelters have eligibility rules 
that prevent certain groups of people (two-parent families, families with 
boys over the age of 12, people with addiction disorders, disabled people, 
people with no incomes) from accessing shelter. People who are turned away 
from shelter are forced to live in other places, such as doubled-up with 
other people, in outside locations, in cars, campgrounds, etc.

A separate "homeless count" would be misleading because:

People experiencing homelessness are not a static population. In most cases, 
homelessness is not a permanent condition, but a state of extreme poverty 
marked by a temporary lack of housing. People move in and out of 
homelessness throughout time, such that more people will experience 
homelessness over the course of time than at any one point in time. For 
example, a study of the public shelter system in New York City and 
Philadelphia found that in New York City, a single shelter bed accommodates 
four different people in the course of a year, while in Philadelphia, each 
bed accommodates six different persons per year. A one-day, or "snap-shot" 
estimation of homelessness therefore distorts the reality of homelessness 
for most people who experience it. A recent study by the Urban Institute 
estimates that at least 2.3 million people, and as many as 3.5 million 
people, will experience homelessness at least once over the course of a 

A Census Bureau report noted that 280,527 people were counted in homeless 
shelters, at soup kitchens, on the streets and at other places in 2000. What 
does this number mean?

This number was taken from a report released in February as part of the 
documentation for its decision not to adjust Census numbers for various 
statistical factors. In the case of people counted at emergency and 
transitional shelters, soup kitchens, and identified outdoor locations, the 
Census attempted to adjust the numbers to account for people who were not 
present on the day of the count, but who normally would be present at those 
locations. However, due to problems in data collection, the Census Bureau 
was unable to make those adjustments. The Census Bureau has concerns about 
the quality of this data, and will not release the data without accompanying 
discussion and documentation of quality issues. The Census Bureau is also 
investigating the discrepancies between this data and other information. A 
recent report by the Urban Institute estimates that at least 800,000 people 
are in homeless situations on any given night, with between 2.3 million and 
3. 5 million people experiencing homelessness at least once over the course 
of a year.

What are NCH’s thoughts about this data?

The release of this estimate confirms NCH's concerns about the inaccuracy 
and distortion of a separate count, as well as the inappropriateness of such 
a count as a measure of the magnitude of homelessness. A conservative 
estimate of known emergency shelter and transitional beds is higher than the 
total number of people in homeless situations estimated in the Census 
report. Many communities reported that the Census missed homeless service 
locations, and/or that enumerators were unable to obtain information because 
of language differences. These facts, in addition to the problems with 
counts described above, mean that the estimate released by the Census cannot 
be used as a measure of homelessness.

Some argue that a separate Census homeless count is needed in order to 
justify funding for shelters and other service programs. Does the lack of a 
separate homeless count endanger funding for these programs?

No. While "snap-shot", or point-in-time estimates of homelessness are part 
of the documentation required for some federal homeless assistance funds, 
local service providers, people experiencing homelessness, and local units 
of government are clearly more qualified than the Census Bureau and their 
enumerators to conduct such a count. Local communities are more likely to 
have the cultural and language competencies to obtain a service count of all 
the service providers in their communities (not just shelters and soup 
kitchens). In addition, local communities are better able to identify more 
of the places where people live outside -- beyond the very limited targeted 
locations that the Census utilized, which did not include abandoned 
buildings, campgrounds, temporary outdoor locations, etc.

The Census Bureau spent a lot of money and time attempting to enumerate 
people in homeless situations. If the Bureau is not going to release these 
numbers, what was the point of this effort?

It is important to make attempts to count people in homeless situations for 
the same reasons that all people should be counted: to gain more 
comprehensive demographic information about communities. People experiencing 
homelessness have extremely low incomes, so the Census effort was especially 
important in order to gain accurate information about poverty. This is 
imperative in order for communities to be able to obtain the Federal 
resources needed to address the needs of people living in poverty, including 
the resources needed to prevent and end homelessness.

What should Congress do?

The discussion about the 2000 Census should center on the fact that ten 
years after the 1990 Census, people in the United States are still 
experiencing homelessness. There are numerous research studies that indicate 
the significant growth in the number of people without homes and at risk of 
experiencing homelessness. Yet, despite existing research, we have not 
invested our resources to end homelessness -- even after years of incredible 
economic growth. Congress should not waste time arguing about how many 
people are experiencing homelessness, but rather focus on efforts to end 
homelessness through affordable housing, livable incomes, accessible and 
comprehensive health care, and the protection of civil rights.


**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.**


-------End of forward-------

Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com