Workers scour state for homeless to count

This was in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer. To read the full article click here.

Workers scour state for homeless to count

The effort was to fulfill a federal mandate for a census every two years to assess aid needs.

By Geoff Mulvihill
Associated Press

Hundreds of volunteers fanned out across New Jersey yesterday, looking in train stations and wooded areas to find and count the state’s homeless.

The statewide effort, New Jersey’s most ambitious and best-organized ever, was launched to fulfill a federal requirement to conduct a census of the homeless every two years. The numbers are used to determine federal grants for homeless services.

In 2005, the census counted about 11,000 homeless, a number well below the 25,000 or so who social-services providers believe live in the state.

Part of the reason for the discrepancy is that the federal Housing and Urban Development Department has a relatively narrow definition of homelessness.

The first question on the survey administered for yesterday’s census was: “Where did you sleep last night?”

For anyone who answered “at a friend’s house,” the survey ended there. By the federal rules, those people are not homeless, even if they do not have a permanent residence.

Another reason for a count that comes up below expectations is that the homeless can be hard to find.