Ending homelessness is more than just about numbers

The Bergen Record published an article entitled “Annual count of homeless questioned“. The article focuses on HUD’s claim of a dramatic drop in chronic homelessness. The challenge is the presumption that the annual counts are accurate enough to make such projections. We should focus on how we end homelessness which is what both Bergen and Passaic are doing as they develop and implement their ten year plans to end homelessness.

This is a portion of the article. To read the full article click here.

Counting the chronic homeless is difficult because they are transient. Adding to the problem is that the federal Point-in-Time surveys haven’t been standardized until now. For instance, the 2006 survey was in April, while the 2005 and 2007 surveys were in January. Future surveys will be in January.

BERGEN COUNTY

2005: 151
2006: 119 -21 percent
2007: 78 -34 percent

PASSAIC COUNTY

2005: NA
2006: 73
2007: 194 +165 percent

Sources: Bergen County Department of Human Services; Passaic County Department of Human Services

Annual count of homeless questioned
Sunday, December 23, 2007

By SCOTT FALLON
STAFF WRITER

The number of homeless who continually live on the streets is down in Bergen County and up in Passaic County in recent years, according to the latest counts, but some advocates say the numbers are faulty.

At issue is the Point-in-Time Count, a federal survey administered annually by local organizations to document the number of homeless in a region on a given day.

In Passaic’s survey, the number of chronically homeless went from 73 in 2006 to 194 in 2007. But the 2006 survey was taken on April 27 while the 2007 number was taken on Jan. 25, when the chronic homeless are easier to count because many are in shelters.

The Bergen counts, also done at different times of the year, showed the number of homeless fell 48 percent from 2005 to 2007, or to 78 people. The results led the county to reduce the planned number of beds at its new Hackensack shelter.

Just how accurate are the numbers that are driving public policy?

“The count of the homeless is a stab in the dark sometimes,” said Barbara Niziol, an executive at Eva’s Village in Paterson, one of the largest social service non-profits in North Jersey. “It’s still very limited.”

Officials at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development say the survey is not perfect, but offers the best glimpse at a tran-sient homeless population.

Last month, the agency reported a 12 percent decrease in the chronic homeless nationwide from 2005 to 2006 and HUD officials expect another decrease when national 2007 numbers are released.

Only 60 percent of the 3,900 cities and counties that participated in the 2005 survey did the same in 2006 because HUD formerly only asked that the surveys be done every two years. HUD officials say the sample size is still statistically significant.

They also acknowledge the survey has to become more standardized and will be taken in January in future years.

Still, Randi Moore of the Paterson-based New Jersey Community Development Corp. cautions against using the survey results to look for trends in the homeless population.

“I think as we do [the survey], we get better at it,’ she said. “But it’s still hard to compare year-to-year.”

HUD credits its push in recent years for permanent housing rather than temporary shelter with decreasing chronic homelessness, which the agency defines as people who are continuously on the street for at least a year or have come in and out of homelessness four times in the past three years.

“You can provide emergency shelter until the cows come home, and it’s not going to solve the problem,” said Brian Sullivan, a HUD spokesman. “Nationally, the primary explanation is that there was a real reduction driven largely by permanent supportive housing.”

To read the full article click here.