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Pandemic Cancels Homeless Count in Many Jurisdictions -Good Riddance

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

By Brian Davis

Every January volunteers, under a mandate from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, march out to the streets and interview people experiencing homelessness in order to document numbers. Because of the pandemic many jurisdictions are cancelling their counts, and I hope the new HUD administration cancels this ritual for good.

HUD’s annual Point-In-Time (PIT) counts are meant to provide critical data about individuals living outside and in shelters, as well as demonstrate the overall need from year to year. But I find these piecemeal counts to be invasions of privacy and useless. Have service providers ever enacted any programmatic changes because more people were discovered living outside? Have any cities or counties announced that volunteers saw a huge number of expectant mothers and so they were immediately opening a shelter for new moms? As far as I am aware, little, if anything, positive has come of the PIT counts.  

Cities have dramatically different approaches to “counting,” and beyond training prior to counts, there is little local or national oversight of the process. Large numbers of people are missed in the count, such as those who ride public transportation all night, people who are staying with friends or family for the night, or those staying in vehicles, abandoned buildings and motel rooms (some of which are not officially counted as ‘homeless’ by HUD). The inadequacies of how the counts are collected give community leaders and the media a distorted picture of the extent of the problem. Media reports rarely explore the shortfalls of PIT data, but just emphatically state that homelessness was up or down over the last year.

Finally, a one day snapshot of homelessness does not equal a trend. Can you imagine the outcry if the local weather person said that because on January 23, 2018, it was 24 degrees and the same day in 2019 it was 12 degrees, this proves that global warming is a hoax?

The effort that goes into these annual counts could be much better used to move people into safe, decent, affordable and accessible housing. 

Read more:
Arkansas Cancels Count
San Jose Commentary on the Count
Perspective on the counts from Outside the US
San Antonio Cancels Count

COVID Vaccination and Homelessness

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

As states roll out vaccinations, we encourage public health officials to make vaccinating people experiencing homelessness and homeless service front-line workers a top priority. Click here to view current state vaccination priority lists

Here are some specifics from the Centers on Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) on the COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.: 

  • There are two COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized and recommended for use in the United States, and three other vaccines are currently in large-scale clinical trials. To learn more about the different vaccines for COVID-19 and how vaccines work, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines.html
  • COVID-19 mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a piece of a protein to trigger an immune response and build immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19. mRNA does not affect or interact with a person’s DNA, and the cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA as soon as it is finished using these instructions.Learn about mRNA vaccines and how they work: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/mrna.html
  • None of the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for use in the United States uses the live virus that causes COVID-19. You may have symptoms like a fever after you get a vaccine. This is normal and a sign that your immune system is learning how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. Learn more about the facts behind COVID-19 vaccines: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html
  • How many people need to get a COVID- 19 vaccine for herd immunity?Herd immunity means that enough people in a community are protected from getting a disease because they’ve already had the disease or they’ve been vaccinated. Herd immunity makes it hard for the disease to spread from person to person, and it even protects those who cannot be vaccinated, like newborns. While experts don’t yet know what percentage of people would need to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, vaccination is a safer way to build protection than getting sick with COVID-19.Have a question about COVID-19 vaccines? See answers to our most frequently asked questions:  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/faq.html

If your community or organization is in need of face masks for the personal protection of people experiencing homelessness from COVID, please contact us at info @ nationalhomeless.org to request free shipments of between 100-5,000 masks. 

For 2021, Shine a Bright Light on the Dark Truth About Homelessness

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

A year-end reflection from Bobby Watts, CEO of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, and Donald Whitehead Jr., Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless

Thirty years ago, the truth that homelessness is not inevitable led to the first Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, held each year on December 21 — the first day of winter and the longest night of the year. The observance of Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, which is now held in more than 100 cities in the U.S. and other nations, began through a partnership of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council and the National Coalition for the Homeless with three objectives: 1) to shine a bright light on the dark truth that homelessness kills; 2) to ensure that those who died are not forgotten; and 3) to mobilize action to end what is often a death sentence — homelessness.

For too many people experiencing homelessness, each commemoration may be their last. Thousands of Americans experiencing homelessness die prematurely and unnecessarily in the world’s richest nation. Communities of color, especially African American and Native American populations, experience homelessness and die at disproportionate rates from this painful and persistent reality. In 2020, Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day was marked by the twin hopes of defeating a worldwide pandemic and achieving a more perfect union in the U.S. with racial justice that is long overdue. 

A public policy change from 40 years ago was largely responsible for creating the present-day scale of homelessness — and different public policies can end it. The rise in homelessness coincides with cutting more than three-quarters of the federal funding between 1979 and 1982 that makes housing affordable for poor people. The budget cuts were not a matter of the country not being able to afford the subsidies, but of ideology. We know this because at around the same time, federal subsidies for homeownership — which overwhelmingly go to the wealthy — increased dramatically, to the point where they now are six times greater than rental subsidies for the poor. This shift in priorities proved to be, quite literally, a death sentence for the most vulnerable.

Society measures what society treasures, and that unfortunately does not always include people experiencing homelessness. We do not know the number of people who die without a home because only a few localities conduct a systematic count. Thanks to two cities that do systematically count homeless deaths, we know they have increased substantially. In New York City, homeless deaths grew by more than 50 percent between 2008 and 2018, and in Los Angeles County, homeless deaths doubled between 2014 and 2019. Several organizations have worked together to create a Homeless Mortality Toolkit to encourage and equip more cities and counties to measure the true scope of the problem and to design interventions that work. We should count our neighbors without homes because people without homes count.

Throughout 2020, COVID-19 taught us an indisputable fact: housing is health care. The critical link between housing and health was further underscored when the Centers for Disease Control issued a moratorium on evictions. The moratorium, which had been slated to end on December 31, has been extended until January 31. If the moratorium ends, almost five million households will be at risk of eviction. If that happens, one study estimates these evictions would cause an additional 10,700 excess deaths nationally.

Homeless deaths are not inevitable. The President-Elect is the first in 40 years to propose that funding for affordable housing be available at a level where every qualifying household receives rental subsidies. That means we need to be speaking up. Urge your public officials to end the national shame of homelessness now.

Let the 2020 Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day be our last.

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