Bogus Bureaucrats

Posted: August 2, 2008 in Bureauacracy, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Politics, Stupidity

There is nothing that angers me more, or fills me with disgust and loathing, than when politicians or bureaucrats go out of their way to skew the truth in order to make to themselves look good.

I have been biting down hard on my tongue ever since I read the original press releases several days ago.  

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is patting themselves on the back and walking around with their chests all puffed out like male pigeons in heat over their latest claims that the numbers of homeless are down from last year. What they are hoping is that the American public doesn’t notice is one key word: chronic.

One of the news reports, Chronic homelessness on the decline, on the KXAN.com website opens with this sentence:

Nearly 32,000 fewer persons lived on the nation’s streets and in emergency shelters last year, according to a new report released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Notice the absence of the word "chronic." And, it’s been the same in every news article I’ve read over the last several days. The word "chronic" has been omitted.

Even on HUD’s own website, their official press release (HUD No. 08-113) opens with this sentence:

Last year, nearly 32,000 fewer persons lived on the nation’s streets and in emergency shelters.

Again, notice the obvious lack of the word "chronic." It isn’t until you read further down that the word chronic comes into play.

Why, could they just come right out of the gate and say: "Last year, nearly 32,000 fewer chronically homeless persons lived on the nation’s streets and in emergency shelters." ?

Why? Because, they are hoping that the public will not notice the word "chronic" as they read through the rest of the report. They’re hoping that the public will be so elated with the thought that there are less homeless on our city streets, that they will clap their hands and jump for joy. But more importantly, they’ve omitted the word chronic right up front to make themselves appear less inept than they are. They want the public to believe that they are making headway; that they’re significantly reducing the numbers of homeless. But, they’re not.

One other thing of note that they fail to mention is that those who are chronically homeless only represent about ten percent of America’s overall homeless population. Moreover, they don’t want you to question what a chronically homeless person is.

The report, Questions and Answers About the "Chronic Homelessness Initiative," on the National Coalition for the Homeless, states this:

What is the Federal Definition of "Chronic Homelessness?"

A "chronically homeless" person is defined as "an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years."

By definition, the "chronic homelessness" initiative excludes the following groups of people: children (with disabilities and without disabilities) who are homeless with their parents; parents (with disabilities and without disabilities) who are homeless and who have children with them; youth on their own with disabilities who have not been homeless long enough to fit the federal definition; youth on their own without disabilities; unaccompanied individuals with disabilities who have not been homeless long enough to fit the federal definition; unaccompanied individuals without disabilities; and unaccompanied individuals who are unwilling to be declared disabled.

So, HUD is patting itself on the back because they’ve manage to reduce the number of chronically homeless by about 32,000 individuals. But what have they done to help the 1.35 million children who will experience homelessness this year? What have they done to help the nearly 400,000 American Veterans who will experience homelessness this year? What have they done to help the nearly 2.2 percent of America’s homeless who are senior citizens?

The answer: not a damned thing!

When you consider that there will be approximately 3.5 million persons who will experience homelessness this year, 32,000 is less than a drop in the bucket. I can’t help but think that it’s foolish for HUD to blow its own horn and think that they are making headway if they’ve only managed to make a less than one percent difference.

Also consider this: this latest enumeration of those who are chronically homeless is a distorted number – and far from a truthful or accurate count. For this most recent poll of homeless HUD changed its counting method. Only those homeless who were counted at a homeless shelter were polled. Moreover, they were only counted as homeless if they consented to be "interviewed."

Now consider this: in my small community of San Luis Obispo, there are approximately 475 persons who are known to be homeless (according to the last SLO County Homeless Enumeration Report).

However, the local shelter can only house 49 persons on the shelter premises, with a possible 35 additional persons at the "overflow" facility. This would allow only a possibility of 84 persons getting bed on any given night of the year. The remaining 390 persons would have to find somewhere out of doors to sleep.

Using HUD’s method of counting, therefore, it would seem as though there were only 85 homeless people in the SLO city limits. But it certainly wouldn’t make the other 390 persons any less homeless, simply because they weren’t "counted."

HUD can pat itself on the back all it wants. And they can skew they numbers all they want, by narrowing the definitions of homelessness. But out on the streets – where it really matters – it doesn’t change reality.

As far as what HUD has to say, the only thought which comes to my mind is: Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire!

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Comments
  1. Chris says:

    Michael is there any umbrella organization for SLO?

    We have one called Homeward that coordinates surveys and volunteers to “interview” the homeless (I participated in one over a lunch by a church near my work a few weeks ago) at shelters, lunches, dinners, and on the usual spots (like a park I frequently visit)… I’d at least hope that they might have better reporting in this regard, but c’mon let’s be honest here ….

    When it comes to press releases, anyone can spin numbers the way they want to achieve whatever goals all the while leaving out other information.

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