113.How Lack of Counting = Lack of Funding


There has been some question of how various agencies get their funding from the federal government and in turn how the government counts the homeless. Here is a brief overview.When an agency for a state or grant agency provides a service that receives the funding from the federal government, they provide that individual’s social security number and name to HUD. HUD then records that individual as a veteran or non veteran and then forwards payment to the state or agency out of the appropriate funding source in what is also called Point in Time Counting in the Continuum of Care. In either case, of veterans, or non veterans it all goes through the GAO (Government Accounting Office). HUD is supposedly keeping a record of their non veteran and veteran homeless as well as the VA keeping track of theirs by social security record or service number, depending upon which department is applied through. This is supposedly easy to track, as it is all electronic data and easily cross checked. Unfortunately, little is done as far as the records checking and again the veterans and other homeless are continually falling through the cracks and continually dying.

Some interesting reading of note is The Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, February of 2007.  This report is amazing to me. That Secretary Alphonso Jackson’s agency which happens to be the Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD could only find a little over 704,000 homeless people nationwide. They used two different means of counting homeless. One was using 80 cities across the United States that were online with the Housing Management Information System. Of those 80 cities, they could only use the data from 55 cities. There are over 300 CoC cities, so HUD polled only just over 26% of their CoC’s actually. Then, using a “Blue Ribbon Team of Experts” extrapolated the data. The other method was that they used one night in January of 2005 of which the exact day was left undetermined, because all the cities that conducted the “one night survey” conducted them all on different nights in that January and have done so ever since including in 2008.

On page 63 footnote (d,) it lists that 90% of the data pertaining to if the person was a veteran and or a person with disabilities was lost or not recorded (how convenient).  Secretary Alphonso Jackson’s report to congress also listed that there was a 6% population increase or over 20 million people during the time of the study, a 35% decrease in emergency shelters or over 115,600 emergency shelter beds, and supposedly NO CHANGE in homelessness. The Secretary did say in his report they are developing 13,000 new emergency beds to replace the 115,600 they lost over the last 10 years. Good News!

The report states that HUD put more emphasis on longer term transitional and permanent supportive housing now, as a result that past emergency shelters might have become long term housing instead of emergency shelters instead. HUD, I guess completely decided to ignore the fact that it allowed municipalities to pressure emergency shelters into closing through municipal pressures without stepping in at all to assist shelter operators by defending the homeless or their advocates.

90% of Veterans data is excluded by HUD as I mentioned earlier. This was due to erroneous interviewing by HUD interviewers failing to notate veteran status 35% of the time and disability status 55% of the time. Also in this report only 80 cities were polled with data from which 55 of which were actually only of use because they were voluntarily subscribed to the HMIS. Other data is then added from other cities haphazardly then slapped together by what Secretary Jackson then calls a “Blue Ribbon Panel of Experts”. When one must qualify their experts and then quantify a report of this magnitude, you know congress has been handed a pile of dreck. The fact that about ten pages of this report tells congress about the methods they DID NOT use to compile and calculate data is confusing to anyone reading the report, and leaves everyone wondering why it was included in the report in the first place.

It is amazing to me that you have to check into a shelter like a polling booth to be counted as homeless like a registered voter. The fact that 3,400 are now closed is a bit tough to swallow. The fact that it is impossible to walk in and get a bed at a transitional shelter and even more doubtful to get a bed at a permanent shelter without a long wait on a list seems to have missed all of the pages of this report to congress as well. They do say in this report that there is a mandate for municipalities to beat the bushes to find the homeless in non traditional ways. This is true especially for smaller cities that want HUD funding and actually try to assist their homeless as in rural Ohio where the Continuum of Care numbers were not used in the HUD count but the mission was still fulfilled and good hearts still prevail. The understandable fact that we know more than 45% of the homeless live on the streets is due to the fact that there has always been less available shelter space than there is homeless. If this were not the case, there would not be needs for things like OVERFLOW SPACE, and What Secretary Jackson is saying here is that with the reduction in emergency sheltering and increases in long term and transitional housing his agency is reporting a success in dealing with homelessness without actually saying it, just inferring it. Truthfully, one can see, an elementary student could do a better job building a better report.

A point of clarification is needed here about emergency shelters for all. Shelters space is not just for homeless persons. They may be used for anyone in crisis as determined by an administrator. So the bed space described in reports as AVAILABLE is not always so. By reducing the number of walk in emergency shelters, homelessness is staying at a neutral level in the United States since this is the central counting facility, funding is never going to be allocated correctly, homeless veterans will continue to be turned away from Veterans Administration Hospitals untreated, shelters will be under funded, and things will continue to decline to worsening levels and we will have further municipal cattle drives as we were seeing in places like Marietta, Georgia.

Secretary Alphonso Jackson you need to just go ahead and resign for not seeing through this macabre stupidity right now and signing this report. Go find something else to do sir where you cannot endanger people.

Now for the conclusions: 

HUD did find 704,000 homeless individuals under the definition of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act in between the 55 to 80 cities per their report. That is an average of 8,800 individual requests for service in their report as they “de-duplicated” all individuals to track them by dates of birth and social security numbers. If this report had actually included all U.S. Cities I wonder what numbers would have actually shown? 

HUD is counting those they have transitioned into Permanent Housing as still homeless per this report and continuing to use that figure in the AHAR, distorting this report. 

The AHAR does not show how many shelters or agencies there were in the 80 cities or surveyed cities for the one night Continuum of Care survey Regions. 

To be eligible to be surveyed, the city/county/region had to be enrolled in the Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS). This disqualified a lot of the homeless from being counted nationwide. 

HUD has for the 704,000 homeless individuals this year, earmarked over 1.326 billion dollars.  These grants are for sheltering of homeless. These do include battered/abused women shelters, homeless shelters, transitional shelters, permanent housing, and not include an additional 160 million for additional emergency shelters. This is woefully short when you consider the true masses on the streets, as well as that these funds are for sheltering those besides homeless to include those with Advanced AIDS, Abused Women, and Mentally Ill just to name a few. 

The VA, who has decided that HUD’s Continuum of Care is the best method of computing veteran homelessness data, is receiving corrupted and incomplete data since 90% of the veterans data had to be omitted due to the 2005 errors and omissions. The fact that the VA presented this data to congress should be further investigated.

The issue of homelessness amongst veterans is doubly clouded by the fact that HUD, the agency that the VA is now relying on for their statistics, is doing a worse job of it than the VA was performing. Now what is the VA going to do since the Continuum of Care is a Continual of Chaos.



1 Response to “113.How Lack of Counting = Lack of Funding”

  1. February 12, 2008 at 8:28 am

    You have done an excellent job of reporting this. I saw in the survey results for Marietta that the classification of veterans was seldom asked. Every group of unhoused homeless I come across has 1 or 2 veterans and so far none of them remember being counted, much less classified as homeless.

    Something smells. Little is being accomplished by “losing” data and doing things haphazardly, other than reducing the pressure to ask for or be granted funding to fix this tragedy. The VA and HUD seem to be fixing the count to match the monies they know are available and/or to show progress when there is none.

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