Earlier this month, the Miami Herald ran an article regarding claims made by a homeless "advocacy group" asserting that Miami-Dade County residents shelled out some $40 million dollars to panhandlers.
I have to admit, when I read the claims made by the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust (the so-called advocacy group) I snorted in disbelief. In fact, I pretty much dismissed it as "government propaganda."
Although I had intended to write a post about the article also, I let it be because I hadn’t had a chance to read the report. Plus, there was something about the $40 million number which triggered a faint memory in my mind. I vaguely recalled having previously read something a few months back about that same amount and homelessness in Miami-Dade County – but it had nothing to do with panhandling.
So I did what I generally do in such instances: I began researching and going though my old research notes.
As it turns out, the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust isn’t a privately run non-profit organization. It is one of Miami-Dade county’s governmental bureaucracies.
It is chaired by Ronald Book, who is Miami-Dade County’s self-proclaimed "number one homeless advocate" – and the person who is most staunchly defending the $40 million as being gospel truth.
But there are more than ample reasons to believe that Mr. Book is guilty of distorting reality to advance the county’s agenda to dissuade residents from giving to the homeless and giving their money to the county instead.
The report in question was based on a survey conducted by well known polling agency, Zogby International. That survey was commissioned by Miami-Dade County.
According to the report, Zogby surveyed a total of 501 of the county’s estimated adult population of 1,827,439. That means only 1 out of every 3,641 adults were polled. Hardly what might be considered an accurate representative cross section of the community.
What I found a bit strange was that 57% of those polled considered panhandling in Miami-Dade County "a problem." Yet, 79% said that they gave to the homeless. So, given that second number, it would seem that roughly 8 out of 10 Miami-Dade residents give to the homeless.
However, it wasn’t Zogby International which came up with the $40 million number. It was the folks over the Homeless Trust itself – and, therefore county officials – which "calculated" how much county residents had given to panhandlers.
And that’s where my skepticism kicked in.
I personally know a number homeless folks who panhandle. I’ve also watched (from a distance) as some homeless folks were panhandling. None of them are receiving either monetary or food donations from 8 out of 10 persons who pass them by.
There was another set of homeless statistics mentioned in the Miami Herald’s article which I found somewhat less than credible.
Consider these two paragraphs from the article,
"Since the Homeless Trust started 16 years ago, estimates of the number of homeless living on the streets in Miami-Dade have dropped from about 8,000 to 974 in the most recent twice-a-year count.
That track record, Book said, suggests how much more the trust could accomplish with just some of the small fortune he believes is now being frittered away by panhandlers."
Note in particular the phrase "living on the streets."
The latter number of 974, based on the county’s latest homeless census, is the numbers of homeless who are "unsheltered" and literally having to sleep in "public" places.
However, the actual number of folks who are considered homeless in Miami-Dade County – again according to the county’s latest homeless census – is 4,333.
The 8,000 cited in the article as "living on the streets" is in reality the combined numbers of both "unsheltered" and "sheltered" homeless.
It seems that Mr. Book used the extreme highest number and the extreme lowest number to give the appearance that the Homeless Trust is doing a fantastic job at ending homelessness in Miami-Dade County.
But to be fair, I must point out that it appears that Miami-Dade County has made some headway at reducing homelessness. After all having had an estimated total of 8,000 homeless in 1996 but only 4,333 this year, does show that there is something positive happening.
All the same, I can’t help but wonder if the numbers in their latest homeless census might not be entirely accurate – especially in light of a USA Today article from April 5 of this year.
With regards to Miami-Dade County, the article stated:
"The homelessness count fell from 4,574 a year ago to 4,333 this year because fewer people are living on the street. ‘Our shelter population is growing,’ says David Raymond, executive director of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust. He says the city is spending more money not only to house the homeless but also to help people stay in their homes. The number of people calling for help after getting an eviction notice jumped from 1,000 in 2007 to 4,000 last year, he says."
As for the $40 million which county residents have supposedly given to panhandlers – by an odd coincidence, it turns out that it is (according to the Miami-Dade County’s own website) exactly the same amount as the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust’s annual budget.