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Mayors' Conference report screws up Sacramento homeless data

Mayor Kevin Johnson as he is pictured at the United States Conference of Mayors webspace.
A report released on Dec 8 by the United States Conference of Mayors, called "Hunger and Homelessness Survey, December 2009," screwed up data relating to homelessness in Sacramento, perpetuating the myth about the nature of homelessness here becoming evermore one of distraught families left to subsist on the streets.

The text in the report directly relating to Sacramento is on page numbered 42 (or, on page 45 of the 100-page download), and reads in whole as follows:
Profile of Homelessness in Sacramento:

Sacramento reported a 31 percent decrease in the number of homeless individuals on a single night in January 2009 compared to January 2008. This decrease was attributed to the city’s success in increasing the number of permanent housing units available for chronically homeless single adults. However, Sacramento reported a 14 percent increase in homeless families during this same period. City officials attributed the increase to a combination of unemployment, foreclosures, and cuts in state funding for social services. One Sacramento shelter reported a 300-person waiting list for persons in families. The unmet need for shelter could increase in 2010 as budget issues have prompted the city to discontinue funding for emergency shelter. The housing crisis has also made it more difficult for the city to build additional permanent supportive housing units.

Sacramento was awarded approximately $6 million through the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP). The city will use this money to prevent homelessness among at-risk families and move families that are in homeless shelters into permanent housing. One bright spot in the housing crisis is that the number of vacant housing units is making it easier to find and lease rental units for homeless families.
In fact, the "data" used in the first paragragh could not be more wrong or misleading.

Comparisons of the January 2009 Street Count to the January 2008 Street Count DO NOT find the results the survey reports. Rather than a 31% DECREASE in homeless individuals, there was a 4.6% INCREASE in individuals. [See the DHA Report on Street Count 2009; specifically the table at the bottom of page 2.]

The number of homeless individuals increased during the year ending January 2009 from 2678 to 2800 -- a 4.6% INCREASE. It is only among the "chronically homeless," a subset of those totals that there was a big decrease, from 681 to 468 [-31%], due to placements in permanent housing.

Families and the number of individuals in families "on the street" DECREASED, comparing 2009 to 2008, according to a breakdown of data that was released by the DHA in April, 2009. Whereas 59 families, comprising 164 individuals were living on the street or in shelters in January 2008, "only" 47 families, comprising 145 individuals were on the street or in shelters in January 2009. [See the SacHo blogpost "The Sacramento Homeless Emergency That Wasn't There."]

The report also brings up that whopper that there are 300 individuals on a waiting list to get into St. John's Shelter Program for Women & Children. The implication, when this number goes unexplained, is that hundreds are left destitute, on the street, when that is not the case. Families on St. John's list are most often endeavoring to improve their circumstance, moving from housing shared with relatives or friends or a crowded shelter to something more agreeable. Also, families, like solo adult homeless people, often get on multiple housing/shelter lists to give themselves options.

As is the case in all US metropolises, in Sacramento County, most homeless people are solo men.  Homeless men aren't as exotic or sympathy engendering as women and kids, and that may play a part in how the homeless story in Sacramento seems continually to be mistold.

It is greatly disappointing that Sacramento homelessness is being mischaracterized in a recent report from Mayor Johnson's office.  The mayor has seemed to be kindhearted, thoughtful, energetic and keenly interested in homeless issues.  It had also seemed that he had "gone to school" on Sac'to homelessness ― visiting homeless encampments; meeting homeless people and working with homeless-help-agency leaders.  But recent events, relating to the clumsy winter-shelter effort, and now the text in the Mayors' Conference report, has to give us all pause.


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