The Bassuk Center

HUD Homeless Data Don’t Add Up

Schools Report Record Number of Homeless Students, While HUD Claims Reduction in Family and Youth Homelessness

Data released in 2018 by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grossly underestimate family and youth homelessness in the United States, according to service providers, educators, and child advocates.

HUD’s 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report Part I (AHAR) estimates that on a single night in January 2018, more than 180,000 parents and children were experiencing homelessness. According to HUD’s numbers, this is an 2% decrease from 2017, and a 23% decrease since 2007.

However, the U.S. Department of Education reported that 1,354,363 homeless children and youth were identified in the 2016-2017 school year by public schools – a 4% increase from the 2015-2016 school year and a 70% increase from the 2007-2008 school year – the highest number on record.

Head Start programs also reported record levels of homeless children, with numbers rising from 26,200 homeless children in 2007-2008 to 52,764 in 2016-2017 – a 100% increase.

HUS's 2018 AHAR also claims that that 36,361 unaccompanied youth under age 25 were experiencing homelessness. However, public schools reported 118,364 unaccompanied homeless youth, an increased of 6% since the 2015-2016 school year, the highest number on record.

Last year’s first-of-its kind study on unaccompanied youth homelessness in America, Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America, found that 4.2 million young people experienced unaccompanied homelessness over a 12 month  period.

HUD’s data and methodology account for only a fraction of families and youth experiencing homelessness:

  • HUD’s “Point in Time” (PIT) count only measures the number of people who are in shelter or transitional housing, or who are seen during street counts. However, most families and youth who are homeless do not stay in shelters, transitional housing, or on the streets.
    • Of the 1.3 million homeless children and youth identified by public schools, only  3.7% were unsheltered, and 13.9% were staying in shelters. The rest were in motels, or staying temporarily with others due to lack of alternatives.
    • Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America found that of the 3.5 million 18-24 year-olds and 700,000 13-17 year-olds who experienced homelessness, nearly three quarters stayed with others while lacking a home of their own – a form of homelessness that is not included in HUD’s limited methodology.
  • Lack of appropriate shelter options, fear of child welfare and safety, and reductions in transitional housing explain why most families and youth who are homeless are not in shelter or on the streets.
    • Shelters and transitional housing are often full, unable to serve families as a unit, do not accept unaccompanied minor youth, or simply do not exist in too many communities.  When families and youth are not able to access shelter, they are less likely to be included in HUD’s counts.
    • Homeless families are less likely than single adults to stay on the streets and other outdoor locations where they can be included in PIT counts, often because they are afraid of having their children being removed from their custody. Unaccompanied homeless youth fear interactions with authorities and exploitation from older adults.
    • For these reasons, families and youth are much more likely to stay temporarily with other people, or in motels – situations that are very unstable, often unsafe, and put them at risk of trafficking. These more hidden forms of homelessness have been shown to have impacts that are just as negative as being homeless ‘on the streets.’
    • HUD has decreased funding for transitional housing, especially for families and youth.  Since 2010, there has been a loss of 5,430 temporary beds for families (shelter and transitional housing).  This does not equate to a reduction in family and youth homelessness – it equates to a reduction in capacity to serve families and youth experiencing homelessness.

The bipartisan Homeless Children and Youth Act (HCYA), H.R. 1511/S. 611, addresses these shortcomings in HUD’s counts, and makes other improvements in federal policies to serve homeless families and youth. It aligns HUD’s definition of homelessness with those of other federal agencies and permits communities to use HUD homeless funding more flexibly to assess and serve the most vulnerable homeless children, youth and families identified in their area.

HCYA was approved by the House Financial Services Committee on a bipartisan basis in July. While the legislation focuses on children and youth, it ultimately will reduce homelessness among all populations by helping to prevent today’s homeless children and youth from becoming tomorrow’s homeless adults.

The hundreds of organizations supporting HCYA—service providers, educators, and child advocates—urge Congress to approve the bill without delay, allowing communities to accurately identify the children, youth, and adults experiencing homelessness and to tailor local responses to effectively serve their needs.

Service providers and advocates respond to HUD:

“We consistently see providers across the country, in all different kinds of communities, cite consistent or increased demand for services. The failure to count highly vulnerable children as homeless despite precarious and dangerous housing is short-sighted and illogical. This official assessment is at odds with observation, logic, and compassion.”

-Claas Ehlers, CEO of Family Promise

“The PIT (Point in Time) count grossly underestimates the numbers of families experiencing homelessness by excluding hundreds of thousands of children and families living in garages and basements or couches of other people. Since the PIT count drives policy and funding, this does an extreme disservice to these families, and undermines the shared goal of achieving housing stability and family well-being.”

-Ellen Bassuk, President, Bassuk Center

“We cannot stand aside and ignore the trauma that so many homeless children and youth are facing in our country. What we can do is take immediate steps by passing common-sense, bipartisan solutions like the Homeless Children and Youth Act (H.R. 1511/S. 611), which would acknowledge their trauma and help them get the support they need. ”

-Bruce Lesley, President, First Focus Campaign for Children

“The nation’s public schools and early childhood programs have witnessed a persistent increase in the numbers of homeless children and youth over the past decade. Schools are better positioned to know who is experiencing homelessness because they must serve all homeless children and youth, regardless of shelter capacity, and because they use a definition of homelessness that matches reality. The urgency of child and youth homelessness requires changes in HUD’s definition, data, and program models to meet the unique developmental needs of children and youth.”

-Barbara Duffield, Executive Director, SchoolHouse Connection

“HUD’s homelessness data is highly suspect, inherently biased against families, and used to support the continuation of failed policy. The federal government should not put it out to characterize trends in overall homelessness when other federal agency data tell a different story. The communities and the families and kids that we work find little comfort in government assertions that things are getting better when they see more people needing shelter, families being refused services, and growing waiting lists.”

-Paul Webster, National Coalition for Homelessness Solutions

“Americans are paying closer attention to youth and young adult homelessness than ever before, and they deserve access to the most accurate information. As last year’s nationally representative survey showing  4.2 million youth and young adult experiencing homelessness demonstrates, HUD’s PIT count falls woefully short in providing an accurate assessment of how many young people are experiencing homelessness across America. Beyond reforms to the PIT count, Congress should fund the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct another nationally representative study of youth and young adult homelessness, and communities should build on the success of local ‘youth counts’ to better understand the nature of the challenge in their community.”

-Eric Masten, National Network for Youth

The Bassuk Center supports communities as they provide stable housing, wellness, and opportunity for marginalized families, children, and youth. By focusing on trauma and mental health, our solutions stabilize vulnerable people in their communities, and promote healthy child development.

Family Promise is comprised more than 200 Affiliates in 43 states, with more in development. Family Promise programs involve more than 200,000 volunteers to address a national crisis at a local level.  Family Promise serves more than 90,000 family members annually and has served more than 850,000 people nationwide since its inception 30 years ago.  For more, visit https://familypromise.org.

The First Focus Campaign for Children is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization affiliated with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. The Campaign for Children advocates directly for legislative change in Congress to ensure children and families are a priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit www.campaignforchildren.org.

The National Coalition for Homelessness Solutions is a provider-initiated and provider-led coalition dedicated to making policy changes that support homeless families, children, and youth. For more information, visit http://solvefamilyhomelessness.org.

The National Network for Youth (NN4Y) is a public education and policy advocacy organization dedicated to the prevention and eradication of youth homelessness in America. As the largest and most diverse network of its kind, NN4Y mobilizes over 300 members and affiliates. For more information, visit www.nn4youth.org.

SchoolHouse Connection is a national non-profit organization working to overcome homelessness through education. SchoolHouse Connection engages in strategic advocacy and provides technical assistance in partnership with early care and education professionals (including school district homeless liaisons and state homeless education coordinators), young people, service providers, advocates, and local communities. For more information, visit www.schoolhouseconnection.org.

Statements from Local Family Service Providers on 2018 HUD Point In Time (PIT) Counts

“In terms of capacity and need, we continue to see families needing access to our emergency shelter. In 2016 and 2017 we served over 200 families, which represents some of highest numbers in our organization’s thirty-two-year history. In 2018, we’ve already had 555 families call for services to be placed on our waitlist. As a shelter that only can serve 21 families at a time. The volume and need locally can be overwhelming at times.”

-Jaymes Sime, Executive Director, MICAH House, Council Bluffs, IA, 712.323.4416, Jsime@themicahhouse.org

“Philadelphia’s PIT numbers under-report thousands of youth and families who experience homelessness. The School District identified 6,583 children and youth who experienced homelessness in the 2016-2017 School Year, compared to the 1,508 children under 18 years of age identified by the PIT count in FY 2017. As a result, Philadelphia devotes very few resources to addressing youth homelessness. In addition, the City turns away families from accessing emergency housing, but does not consider that number in its PIT calculations. These experiences thwart Philadelphia’s ability to adequately address family and youth homelessness.”

-Joe Willard, Vice President for Policy, People’s Emergency Center, Philadephia, PA, 215.840.5104, jwillard@pec-cares.org

“Saint John’s operates the largest shelter in the region and the only one focused exclusively on homeless women and children. We have increased our capacity by over 30% in the last 14 months, from 180 women and children daily, to 270 daily.  However, in spite of being able to serve more women and children daily, our waiting list has held steady at 250 women and children for the past four years.”

-Michelle Steeb, CEO, St. John’s Program for Real Change, Sacramento, CA, 916-832-7626 msteeb@saintjohnsprogram.org

“We get as many as 175 calls in a month from homeless women seeking shelter.  Over half are women with children. Sadly our family program is small and in Baltimore many of the available shelter programs to families have shut their doors in past years.  I worry that these women and their children are forced to stay in unsafe conditions and with unsafe people due to the lack of resources in our community. I am sure most of them are living among the hidden homeless and not being ‘counted’ in our local PIT count.”

-Katie Allston, Executive Director, Marian House, 410-467-4121 *229, kallston@marianhouse.org

“Santa Barbara County’s most recent Point in Time count (2017) of homeless people does not even bother to break out the number of homeless families in the county; it only reports on gender and age. The report even states that due to HUD regulations, many people who are homeless in the County are not able to be included. Yet in 2017, the Santa Barbara Unified School District stated that 14.3 percent of its students are classified as homeless, according to U.S. Department of Education’s definition of homelessness. In the last five years, Transition House has consistently maintained a waitlist for its 70-bed shelter of 25 to 50 families at a time. Based on the need we are seeing, we find the school district’s assessment of homelessness a much more accurate picture than HUD’s.”

-Kathleen Baushke, Executive Director, Transition House, Santa Barbara, CA, 805-966-9668, kbaushke@transitionhouse.com

“We get an average of 6-8 calls a day for people who are homeless and in need of services.  Unfortunately, sleeping in cars or living in hotels doesn’t qualify as an emergency enough to receive funds for our program.”

-Maureen Kornowa, Executive Director, Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter, Buford, GA, 678-546-8770 (ext 223), 678-620-5756 (cell), MKornowa@gwinnettchildrenshelter.org