San Diego’s count of downtown chronic street homeless increased 27 percent, underscoring the failure of the region to provide solutions for homeless individuals. The count also showed a double digit increase in Escondido.
The annual Point in Time count is required of regions that receive funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The methodology of the count is historically unreliable and its many flaws and challenges can be seen in this most recent report.
First and foremost, the point in time count exclusively focuses on street homelessness ignoring homeless families, youth, and children. As is demonstrated by this most recent count, the majority of street homeless are individual men. The implication is that this population makes up the majority of the homeless, when, in fact, the count limits who it is counting to the streets, where chronically homeless men are most likely found. The Point In Time count ignores families, women, children, and youth because these populations are seldom found on the street finding shelter, instead by doubling up with family, friends, or others, living in motels, or sleeping in their cars. (In fact, Senators Portman (OH) and Feinstein (CA) have introduced a bill to address the fact that people living in these situations are not “homeless enough” according to HUD.) The Point in Time count is fundamentally flawed and paints a tragically distorted picture of how many are homeless and the populations that comprise the homeless.
The Point in Time Count is not only inaccurate, but it negatively impacts communities and populations by directing funding to those that are the most counted. HUD considers the size of a community’s homeless population, as demonstrated by the Point in Time count, in awarding funding for homelessness assistance. Because the Point in Time count is skewed to individual chronically homeless men, HUD prioritizes that population in its programming and funding.
The Union Tribune article repeats a fallacy that “Nationwide, cities and social service agencies have been shifting away from temporary, transitional housing to permanent supportive housing.” In fact, cities and programs have been forced away from shelters and transitional housing because HUD has cut off almost all funding for these strategies – a shift supported by sneaky accounting tied to the Point in Time count.
According to HUD regulations, individuals and families living in shelters and transitional housing are still considered homeless for the purposes of the Point in Time count. Individuals and families living in HUD’s preferred strategy of permanent supportive housing are no longer considered homeless for purposes of the Point in Time count.
Fortunately, the Point in Time count is targeted for reforms as grass-roots organizations come to understand just how damaging the count is for homeless of all populations.