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Sacramento Homeless Count 2015, Part I

Sacramento Steps Forward released reports providing data from the January Homeless Count they conducted. The count is “required by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)” to occur on a bi-annual basis on a day during the last ten days in January. The reports are three in pdf format: A cover memoA report on the survey by Focus Strategies; and A Resource Guide for People Experiencing Homelessness.

Understandably, perhaps, the figure the Bee and other local news media glommed onto, pretty much exclusive of all else, is the overall count of homeless people in the county and the percentage by which that number has increased as compared to the prior count.  Here’s that information: 2,659; an increase of 4.8% above the count in 2013.

Important information that is missing is the statistical confidence of the data. I think that for SSF to compute the degree of accuracy would be difficult if not nigh on impossible, but the precision of a head count of homeless folk, much of which was done in the middle of the night, has a high likelihood of failing to capture a good many homeless people. While there are some permissible extrapolation techniques the surveyors may use, they have to be based on something (and for the life of me I don’t know how you can include people you don’t spot, and as a result, can’t really have any clue whether nobody or hundreds of people were missed.

Why might there be untallied campers or rough sleepers or folks living in vehicles?
  • people sleeping in the dark are hard to see
  • homeless people don’t want to get a ticket (which happens a lot nowadays) thus they urgently don’t want to be seen.
  • many homeless people with outstanding warrants or who are in the country illegally find very secretive locations to avoid contact with the public.
Basically, the task that Sacramento Steps Forward was given was much like trying to count the number of stray cats that there are in the county over the course of one night. It’s a whale of a difficult project to succeed at if getting close to the true count is important.

Fortunately, the Homeless Count really isn’t important to the public -- not yet, anyway. What the public knows is something simple and true: There are thousands of homeless people. Some of them drink and stink. Many others are woebegone, suffer mightily and see no end to their misery.

I’m glad that the Department of Housing and Urban Development requires a count of homeless people, if only because it makes the fact that homeless people “are out there” a little less forgettable. If the public knows only that there are too many homeless people out there, that's enough for now, I suppose.

There are too many for what shelter space is available. There are too many in the minds of those who want downtown to be a swanky fun zone for the beautiful people. There are too many for owners of businesses that are proximate to Loaves & Fishes and have to clean up the messes made by homeless rascals. And there are too many to my mind who are depressed, miserable, idling away their lives, walking around in circles by day and numb to the world at night.

Someday, perhaps, if Housing First picks up speed and succeeds, maybe the homeless count will be important if just for this one thing: To put the last few people left  into an apartment to salvage their lives.

In Part II of this report on the Homeless Count I hope to have gotten some insight on how extrapolations were used in completing the survey  Also, I'll get into some of the interesting categories of homeless folk. Alcohol users! Drug users! The mentally ill!

Also, I hope to have some information about Sacramento Steps Forward's new Management Information System which tracks homeless people and the services they use. I think this information gathering is a tad controversial both (1) as a matter of collecting data on people who prefer not to be poked and prodded and diagnosed without giving their explicit permission for this; and (2) because it becomes a source of information that can end up pressuring homeless people to go to scores of "fix me" meetings and enrolling in "fix me" programs that many claim to be wastes of their time.


Rick Eaton said…
I am always taken aback when I hear the Sacramento homeless numbers. Where I live in Benton & Franklin counties of Washington state, the last homeless count revealed around 400 total. From my experience, that sounds about right.
Yeah, but you're Richie Rich nowadays, Rick. The police in your county have mink-lined holsters and can threaten the homeless with withdrawal of Starbucks latte privileges.
Rick Eaton said…
Now now... Pasco (one of the towns in "my" area) made the news in February when the police shot a homeless guy 17 times because he had a rock. Yes, he's very dead.
I've had the experience of being homeless both here and in Sacramento for a year each. Sacramento is miles ahead of Pasco in homeless services and attitude. I know that next time I'm de-homed, I'll be off to Sacramento, homeless wonderland of the west.
Joy! Rapture! I hope to be on the welcoming committee to cheer as de-homed Rick is regaled for returning to his beloved Sacramento homeless hometown.

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