Almost one year ago, in October 2014, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported that they counted only 4,606 homeless people in Louisiana on a single night in January 2014 using a standard method known as a Point-In-Time count, in which volunteers and staff of homeless service providers seek out homeless people in communities throughout the state.
The McKinney-Vento Act requires State Education Agencies to count how many homeless students have been identified in public schools each school year. In the 2013-14 school year, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) counted 20,589 homeless students in PreK-12.
How can HUD possibly account for this difference?
The problem lies in HUD’s definition of homelessness. When identifying homeless people, HUD is only counting people who stay outdoors or in a homeless shelter. In actuality, homelessness can mean staying in a motel/hotel, being unstably housed in an apartment with another family or two, or couchsurfing among young people. Since there is no one accepted federal definition of homelessness, the HUD count will always be in conflict with counts by agencies with more inclusive definitions.
We pointed out the problems with HUD’s report in an earlier blog post, and the points we made then are still true today:
Families are unlikely to be counted in homeless shelters, not only because they’re often at capacity, but also because of restrictions on age and/or gender that would separate families or completely rule them out as an option. For the most part, homeless families and unaccompanied youth stay with whoever they can for short periods of time. Read more. . .
The main problem with HUD’s definition of homelessness is that it contributes to the invisibility of homeless children and families. HUD calls itself the “Department of Opportunity,” and it truly has been for millions of Americans who utilize its programs and services. But for homeless children and families, it doesn’t have much to offer. If they aren’t included in the definition, they can’t access HUD’s wide-ranging services, which include shelter, food, housing counseling, and job skills programs.
So why are we telling you all of this?
The Obama Administration wants to end homelessness among families, children, and youth by the year 2020. Our elected officials are going to have a difficult time supporting that effort effectively with the data they’re being presented by HUD. A piece of bipartisan federal legislation, the Homeless Children and Youth Act (H.R. 5186/S. 2653) could address this problem by amending HUD’s definition of homeless and allowing for greater visibility of homeless children and youth.
Every August, our representatives in Congress head home for a 5-week summer recess. They need to hear from you before heading back to DC in September. Please call the district office of your Congressman and Senators Vitter and Cassidy and ask them to support the Homeless Children and Youth Act today. If you don’t know who your district representative is, you can find out here.