Homeless Counts: Just Like Counting Sheep?

By | Feb 9, 2015

The ShadowFour years ago, I wrote a piece on this country’s bi-annual homeless count, entitled, “Are Homeless Counts Like Counting Sheep?” I have reposted the article below.

Many issues that I highlighted remain unchanged. One significant difference is that the 100,000 Homes Campaign has reached its goal. Some cities have ended veteran homelessness or veteran chronic homelessness. Currently, there are numerous exciting initiatives working to end veteran and chronic homelessness.

However when looking at the bigger picture, we simply have not reached our ultimate goal. Four years after my homeless count blog post, sadly, we are still counting individuals and families living out on the streets that have fallen through the cracks of society.

Once again, our goal is simple: We need to eradicate homelessness so that there is no longer a need to count the homeless.

Are Homeless Counts Like Counting Sheep?

February 7, 2011

If you were one of those compassionate Americans wanting to help resolve the sad state of homelessness in this country, you may have woken up hours before the sun rises to help your local city count homeless persons.

I know how it works. You drag yourself out of bed hours before you typically get up, so you can scour the streets counting the heads of sleeping homeless people.

One, two, three, four. Forty-five, forty-six. Seven hundred thirty-seven, seven hundred thirty-eight.

If you were in Los Angeles, incredibly, the homeless numbers turn into five figures. Eighteen thousand three hundred and forty-nine… You get the image.

Every other alley you look down, every freeway overpass you walk under, and nearly all parks seem to have some sleeping person rolled up in a ball while fending off the early morning January cold.

After six years and four national homeless counts, thousands of Americans hit the streets just before dawn to count homeless persons. This bi-annual event is mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in order for jurisdictions to receive federal funding for homeless programs.

Even with a cup of Starbucks in one hand and a clipboard in the other, that premature morning jaunt on the streets of America just doesn’t wake you up completely. Our bodies are geared toward sleeping when the sun has not risen.

And those dormant homeless persons, with their heads on top of a rolled-up dirty shirt or settled on their mittens, seemed to go on and on. One, two, three, four, five, six… Homeless numbers keep going on and on in this country. Six years and counting. Is there an end in sight? Will this country respond to homeless counts in the same way we respond to counting sheep? Will we fade into suspended consciousness?

If you look at the past few decades, our country has dramatically ignored real solutions to ending homelessness. Political leaders grandstand in front of television cameras, “Homelessness should not be tolerated in this country!” But when the lights turn off, political business continues as usual.

Homeless agencies practically beg for resources to aid lines of people that need assistance. But the number of homeless persons in this wealthy country continues to be obscene.

Is there an end in sight?

During the same period last month when cities across the country were counting homeless persons, dozens of eager volunteers hit the streets of Albuquerque, New Mexico to perform a more innovative approach to counting homeless persons. They are a part of nearly 70 cities around the country that are not just counting people on the streets. They are engaging people, learning about their struggles, and linking them to permanent housing.

This 100,000 Homes Campaign is the answer to homeless counts. The result of their counting has placed over 7,000 chronically homeless persons who had been sleeping on the streets of America into permanent housing.

You could even think of it as an “anti-sheep” campaign because there is no falling asleep in this count. In fact, every city that has participated has been energized.

One of the cities that the 100K Homes Campaign targets is Long Beach, California—a port city just south of Los Angeles. A couple of weeks ago, Long Beach conducted their HUD-mandated homeless count. Their numbers usually result in about 4,000 homeless persons.

Because of a 100K Homes survey in Long Beach a couple of summers ago—I know that 80 very sick, very chronically homeless persons, were not counted. Why? Because in the past year-and-a-half, they were permanently housed.

One of these 80 formerly homeless individuals is Ron, a veteran who had lived on the streets for 38 years. He has been in his apartment for over a year now. Another is James, who sat on a chair along the 710 Freeway for ten solid years.

Neither Ron nor James was counted this year. Shouldn’t this be our goal? To ensure homeless persons are NOT counted, because they have been housed.

One Comment

  1. guest
    Posted May 21, 2015 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    I live in Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, California – They grandstand homelessness here. Every major supermarket. Can you imagine being a child and growing up with this type of scenery? There seems to be a dark agenda here.