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HUD's Point-in-time Count Anemic

Homelessness is an issue at the forefront of American concern. This condition is not felt in just one area of the United States, but in every city and state. In Fort Wayne, IN the point-in-time count is not yet available, but counts are based upon those people living in shelters or do not have housing, leaving others living with family and friends or using hotel facilities out of the overall count. The point-in-time count is conducted by shelters representing just a few elements of the homeless population such as abuse victims or veterans. The count many times is dependent upon volunteer staff with no interest in acquiring measurements of the homeless, especially when their time offered is for the sole purpose of helping with the mission of the specific agency. Finally, conditions for the count are like quicksilver. One day out of every year to conduct a count of homeless people leaves the numbers anemic. Excluding significant variables like level of education creates false data and an incorrect perception for the public.

These counts are difficult and far from accurate. The numbers are nowhere near a reflection of those people living on the street or in the neighboring wooded areas. People who are homeless and staying on the streets do not want this fact advertised. Living in groups for protection, they are illusive. They change their names for a reporter or a feeding program and are vague about important personal information which in the end is useful to develop efficient social programs.

As of January 2013 and according to the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) there were 610,042 homeless people in the United States. In shelters or sheltered locations, 394,698 people were counted and 215,344 people were living in unsheltered locations, meaning on streets or in wooded areas. The Stanford Center on Poverty and Equality Report for 2014 suggests that poverty has increased from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 15.0 percent in 2012 and those percentages continue to rise. The report states, “The current poverty rates for the full population and for children rank among the very worst over the 13 years since 2000.” These numbers indicate that more and more Americans are facing devastating financial conditions which could easily throw them into homelessness. The truth is that under the current data collection method, no one has any idea of the numbers of homeless individuals there truly are.

While the purpose of HUD’s HMIS systems is honorable, it seems that the point-in-time technique to acquire the numbers of homeless individuals is an attempt at qualitative research with a quantitative twist. Perhaps the collection of this necessary data might be better advanced through a deliberate and tedious qualitative method which ensures vital trust between the participants and the researcher. These numbers are too important and must be pursued in a more diligent manner.