invisible homeless kids

Hard to imagine that in this country way over 1,700,000 kids are without homes. H-O-M-E-L-E-S-S Kids. I don't get it. Are we willing to discard these kids? Not me. So this blog will relentlessly focus on this issue, hoping to light a spark to fuel a compassion epidemic. Chime in, argue, but do something....

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Counting Homeless Kids--Do They Count?

In a couple nights countless teams of volunteers and staff across the country will fan out and count the uncountable--homeless adults and kids for HUD's annual "Point in Time" count. It's a gallant effort. But too bad it's a misguided one.

3 sisters in Reno, NV bemoan their plight
You see, and this is where it gets confusing, the definition of "homelessness" is different depending on the federal department using it. And HUD, the primary source of funding to address homelessness (albeit inadequately), has a very narrow, inaccurate definition that excludes lots of kids and families.

Why does this seemingly obscure issue rate a mention? Well, since the beginning of the federal McKinney (now McKinney-Vento) homeless programs in 1987, Congress--the body that decides funding for agencies--has been, well, confused. I suspect they think all homeless people are, well, bums.

Now I'll be the first to dispel the myths about homeless adults, having run shelters for 15 years. Homeless adults need and deserve all kinds of help. It's not--nor should it be--"us vs. them" when it comes to funding. But the level at which families and kids have been excluded is obscene.

Camping in NW Oregon. 3 girls and parents.
Families, and youth on their own, often need to be "creative" when it comes to finding a roof over their heads. Shelters, if their community has any, are typically full. Doubling up with others, couch surfing, motels, and campgrounds become stop-gap precarious solutions. I've seen families in tents on the edge of town, in campgrounds (freezing with no access to heat), in vans and cars, and in no-tell motels that wouldn't be appropriate for anyone, much less kids. (Watch CBS 60 Minutes segment on families living in cars.)

Clearly, Congress, federal (state and local) bureaucrats and policymakers just don't get it. Which is why some of us worked hard to facilitate a Congressional hearing on homeless kids by courageous homeless kids. (See it)

 Here's something people don't realize about numbers:
  • Schools have identified (2009-10 school year) nearly 1 million students without homes. (This is probably 1/2 of the actual homeless student population--they're hard to identify.)
  • That doesn't include an estimated 2-3 million youth not in school (and not with parent/guardian)
  • Nor does it include younger siblings (infants-5 year old), a number that could easily hit 1 million.
Do the math. Probably something near 6 million KIDS.

So, when HUD reports a mere 650,000 or so homeless people counted in these PIT tallies, and Congress responds in kind with chump change for homeless programs, well, it's infuriating. And it's wrong. Which is why I got a little, umm, testy when being interviewed on CNN last month.

An effort is afoot in Congress to change the definition. Yep, it will increase the numbers. But at least we won't continue to be stumbling in the dark, ignoring reality.

And HEAR US is working with a small group of people to shine a LED spotlight on the ultra-ignored segment of the homeless population, homeless infants and toddlers. Littlest Nomads we call them.

Seems to me that it's time to have a big ol' camp out in front of the Capitol. It will make it easier to count the growing number of people without homes. Then what will the excuse be?