Exactly How Many Children Are Homeless In The U.S.?

Posted: March 17, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Children, Government, Homelessness, Housing, Hunger, Morality, Politics

Last week’s press release by the National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH) that 1 in 50 American Children were homeless filled the headlines in news outlets all across the nation.

It also sparked a number of criticisms.  

An article in The Providence Journal, Homelessness report criticized, called the report’s findings outdated and not reflective of the current situation:

"But local experts say the findings, outlined in a 204-page report, are already old, and grossly underestimate the number of homeless children in the state, even three years ago.

‘Their findings are outdated,’ said Eric Hirsch, a professor of sociology at Providence College. The report, he said, relies on information from the state’s public schools, not its homeless shelters. ‘It’s not a complete picture of the problem.’"

On the other hand, a recent article from Fox News, What’s In a Number? That Depends on How You Define ‘Homeless’, asserted that the NCFH "… did not use the federal definition of homelessness. Instead, it used a different definition that grossly inflated the actual number."

Of the NCHF report, University of Pennsylvania Professor of Sociology Dennis Culhane (who incidentally is one of HUD’s principal report investigators) said:

"It’s not consistent with the definition that we’ve applied in academic research for more than 20 years and it’s inconsistent with federal housing policy"

What Professor Culhane failed to mention is that HUD’s definition of a homeless child is not consistent with Federal U.S. Code (which is the legal definition) as outlined in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Nor, did he mention that the NCFH used the McKinney-Vento definition as the standard on which to base their report.

The problem with all of this bickering on exactly how many American children are homeless is that it’s petty. Moreover it detracts from the true issue at hand: there are children in our nation who are homeless.

These are the facts: the enumeration of the nation’s homeless is not an exact science – nor can it be. There are simply too many variables which preclude establishing a number with 100 percent accuracy.

In most areas, the counting of a community’s homeless is done using what is known as a "point-in-time" (PIT) count and is intended as a "snapshot" of local homeless numbers.

These point in time counts may take place in as short a period as one day, or they may last several days. The duration in which these counts occur is based on the numbers of volunteers, funding and other factors.

Despite the best efforts of those conducting these counts, there will inevitably be some disconnect between the final numbers and actual reality.

Subsequently, when the enumeration reports are published afterward they will be estimates based on extrapolated numbers. However, most times, these reports are forthright enough to admit that the numbers are mostly likely "under counts."

So, exactly how many children are homeless in our nation?

Considering that family homelessness has been on a steady increase since the early 1980’s; perhaps the more important question to ask is why we haven’t taken the necessary steps to address and remedy child homelessness.

It shouldn’t matter if there are 1.5 million children who are who homeless; or if there is only half that amount; or even if there is only one homeless child in our nation.

The reality is this: one homeless child in the U.S. is one homeless child too many.

Rather than expend energy trying to debunk the NCFH’s report, HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness should be strenuously pressing Congress to increase and provide adequate funding to end child homelessness.

Anything less is nothing more than lip service.

  1. Bonnie says:

    Very well said. Thank you.

  2. Diane Nilan says:

    This discussion needs to be held at a louder level so folks at HUD hear it.

    It gripes my $%(@* to hear Phil Mangano and Nan Roman talking about the rising number of homeless children after years of fighting against the reality of their existence.

    The “Katrina-ization” of homelessness is what I see going on now. If it leads to action for all homeless kids, families, and teens, well and good.

  3. Skye says:

    1 in 50 children. That’s a shocking statistic.

  4. Diane Nilan says:

    If 1 in 50 is shocking, the real number would be at least double that. Numbers are important, to a certain extent, but the gross undercount does more harm than good.

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