Monday, April 13, 2009

Where's the data on Sacramento county's homeless families?

Ever since the Oprah show, broadcast on Feb. 25, there's been enormous interest in homeless families in Sacramento.

Many national news providers have misinformed the public about homelessness nationwide, using Sacramento as the iconic prime example of homelessness that has befallen families.

You might think that Street Count, 2009, taken by the Department of Human Assistance in Sacramento county, would tag numbers to wild guesses and either end or confirm the reports of booming family homelessness.

The data for the count of homeless in our county was due "five or six weeks" following the count on Jan. 27, but only got reported out Friday. SacHo [in "Street Count, 2009 Data: Homelessness up 4.6% in county in past year"] and the Sacramento Bee [in a headline article "Sacramento homeless study mixed: More families, fewer 'chronic' cases."] posted/published articles on the count results over the weekend.

The Sacramento Bee report by Cynthia Hubert begins with this one-sentence paragraph:
More families with children are living on the streets and in homeless shelters in Sacramento County, a new survey suggests.
What's significant about the sentence? The last word – suggests.

I'm sure most readers of Hubert's fine article didn't glom onto that word, but it's not just interesting, its necessary.

The data to back-up a claim that "more families with children are living on the streets and in homeless shelters in Sacramento county" ISN'T confirmed by the new survey's data. A breakdown of the data isn't there to confirm this. What data is there is an aggregate of families on the street, in shelters and in transitional housing.

People in transitional housing, while likely living a lower quality life than what they had been, are not homeless any more than apartment dwellers are. Thus a breakdown of the family data that the DHA has compiled is important at helping to understands what's happening to families in Sacramento in these dicey economic times.

The aggregate data that is provided is this: There's been a 14.6% increase in households that are homeless or living in transitional housing, up from 161 to 184 in 2009, compared to 2008. Homeless individuals or individuals living in transitional housing who are part of families increased from 442 to 541 in a year. That's a 22.4% increase.

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