Monday, April 6, 2009

How many homeless are there? And who are they?

Photo from the Chronicle story.
Despite all the attention that has come to homelessness, both nationally and here in Sacramento, it remains mysterious how many homeless there are. Whatever happened to the "Street Count, 2009" data that was supposed to have been made available "five or six weeks" following the count, that was taken on January 27?

The lead story today in the San Francisco Chronicle is about the growing number of homeless: "Ranks of homeless swell as middle class teeters." The story tells us,

Homelessness across the entire nation is soaring, and experts say most of that growth is among ... middle- to lower-middle-income workers – or families. But here's the tricky thing: They aren't all showing up in shelters yet.

There's a long ladder of resources they first have to tumble down before they hit bottom . ... Right now, experts say, the newly homeless are mostly invisible – living with relatives and tapping friends and unemployment checks to avoid the shelters.

But given the ailing economy that saw a record 5.7 million Americans collecting unemployment last week, there will soon be thousands of new faces in the cots.


"A majority in the shelter look like they've been doing this a long time," [said one middle-class worker who had tumbled down to the bottom] as he got into line for a night in Marin County's temporary winter shelter for men. (The shelter closed Wednesday when funding shortages prevented community leaders from keeping it open longer than spring, despite a "sleep-in" protest by homeless advocates at the county civic center.) "But there are others like me. We kind of look at each other and shake our heads."

As you can see, the effects of the economy are yet to greatly affect the streets and the shelters, but that's starting to rev up.

It's an interesting situation in Sacramento: Even though the reality has been that growth in on-the-street homelessness hasn't started to take off, yet (dispite what you've been told in all the misinformation that has come from the months-long international Oprah-initiated media blitz on Sacramento homelessness), it will soon, and it will skyrocket. Bad times aren't here; they're in the offing.

A curious thing: The city is spending a pretty-fair-sized pot of money [~$1,000,000] to address the situation that is at hand NOW, to shelter (or disperse or hide) ~180 campers in tent city, when the BIG BIG problems are sure to come later this year, extending well into 2010.

Tent city happened, not so much because of "new homeless," families made destitute because of the flailing economy, but because people already on the street were being rousted – from the mission area on Bannon Street and crack alley and elsewhere.

Update 5/3/09: Relating to the paragraph immediately above this one, we now know that there was a DECREASE in new, roofless families between Jan 08 and Jan 09 and that the Oprah-inspired media blitz in Sac'to was bogus. See: "The Sacramento Homeless Emergency that Wasn't There"

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