We want statistics, because we want to quantify “the problem”, which is homelessness. If we can box it, measure it, then we can reduce it or eradicate it. Were it so simple. Homelessness isn’t something we can distinctly measure and wipe off the map. So much of homelessness is an attitude, both of the homeless and of housed neighbors. And trying to measure homeless folks is like trying to count the drops of water in the ocean.
Here are some of the issues those who gather statistics have:
1. Homeless folks don’t want to be found
In many cities, homeless folks and camps are targets. Targets of the police, of housed neighbors, of people who take advantage of them, of highway workers and others. Many groups automatically see them as criminals, or at least as “undesirables.” Folks on the street who would like to live a peaceful life find that hiding is the best way to do it. If the police can’t find them, then the likelihood is that those who wish to count the homeless can’t find them, either.
2. Street numbers change
Not only do the numbers of homeless change from year to year, they change from month to month. Most of the homeless have family, friends or jobs that will help them get off the street. Sometimes the right friend just finds out, a family member’s heart is tugged just right, or a family just needs to save enough money. In the summer, friends and family feel less for those on the street than in the winter. And there are cycles of time when landlords evict their tenants, and times when they don’t. If certain government programs for the ill, the mentally ill or the poor are cut, then homelessness increases. On the other hand, if shelters or programs develop, homelessness might decrease. Or it might not. So a single count every two years is woefully inadequate to give us a picture of homelessness at any other time.
3. Who counts as homeless?
Finally, statistics are remarkably different depending on who is being counted. Recently, the Department of Housing and Urban Development posted statistics about Homelessness, counting only those who are on the street. The Point in Time count every other year counts people sleeping on the street, those in their cars and those in shelters. Others will count those forced to live in motels, on friend’s couches or in other overcrowded situations. Some will actually compare one group with another to try to show that they have almost eradicated homelessness. Utah, for example, was able to claim that they reduced homelessness by 91 percent by changing the definition of who is “chronically homeless”. So numbers might not make sense, especially compared from one agency to another.
We need the statistics in order to give us a general idea of the scope of the issues involved, or to determine trends. But exact counts are not possible, unfortunately.
Karen is an articulate homeless writer who communicates the reality on the street, and how folks on the street support each other to survive. Occasionally she will have a post to give us a flavor of what it’s like on the street.
Sometimes I wish I could do more for some of the people out here.
Like the young man who just joined our camp. He fits what we look for in family and campmates/housemates. Doesn’t want drama; wants to get where he wants to go at a pace he can handle. He’s a veteran he deserves better then the streets.
Our family member Gypsy Wanderer wants to work and hopefully will be called here soon as the weather is better. If not then he is going to start his disability (which he should be on).
Paul and I never seem to make it to anything we need to do when it comes to that stuff something always comes up. Doing better at some of it making him take time. The need for a stable neighborhood for all of us is becoming paramount things like last night make feeling safe and truly able to sleep a difficulty when we all have PTSD and other issues.
Something I learned quick on the streets: DON’T lose who you are and don’t lose your will and drive to accomplish what you want.
It may take time to get there but at least you don’t lose yourself and become what they accuse you of being. Losing yourself is far worse then anything else that could happen to you out here. You become what they say you are because they beat you down and run you down till you are to tired to fight.
Unfortunately it sometimes backfires and instead of caving and becoming some of us stand up taller and start fighting back.
I have rights. My house is my van. My HOME is my husband and our animals. I AM a CITIZEN of this CITY and of this COUNTRY.
the gangbanging zealot and despicable whore.
He went to dark places, the ghetto and hood.
He didn’t need affirmation, he knew where he stood.
The peace seeds he sowed were ridiculously small,
like mustard seeds when planted, invisible to all.
But germinate they did and grow to this day,
proving redemption through relationships is the best way.
I’ve joined him in the work that leads not to fame,
if I endure to the end I’ll be glad that I came,
to enter dark places with the torch of the Spirit.
If I first live out the Gospel, I’ll have the right to proclaim it.
The homeboys who trust me might invite me to toke
(I hope I don’t get buzzed on the second hand smoke),
but I graciously decline and explain as I say,
“Thanks dude, but I’ve found a better way.”
This is so not the life I had planned,
back in my Humboldt hippie days, eco-groovy and grand.
Waging the war to preserve ancient forest,
in hope that such beauty endure untarnished.
But I’m in a transition I can’t figure out.
I look back on my life and ask, “What’s this about?”
I still dig the forest, but my values have shifted.
My contempt for the city is now being lifted.
Like Jonah I tried to run from my calling,
afraid of the slums and actually falling
in love with the broken God so passionately cherished,
refusing to care whether or not they perished.
So now I’ve repented, to the inner-city I’ve turned.
Since entering its gates, this is what I have learned.
There is actually beauty here, ‘though sublime and misunderstood.
I’m finding hidden treasure waging peace in the hood.
-Harlan Young, 2011
To Whom It May Concern:
Tim and Sam are people who have struggled to improve their lives. And they have succeeded.
Tim struggled through his addiction with drugs and homelessness. In the midst of his lowest points, he was in jail and he failed in treatment programs. In the midst of this, he remained cheerful and encouraging to his friends, but that doesn’t mean that internally he wasn’t fighting with the two parts of himself—addiction and self-control.
Tim has now been living in my house for over a year and he’s been clean and sober for almost two. He has had a full time job working for a printer for nine months. And this change is due to many reasons, but the two most important is his deep and abiding love for Jesus and his deep and abiding love for Sam and their daughter, Paloma.
Sam struggled with severe depression and a resulting addiction to alcohol. She lost her husband, her four children, and her apartment. She and Tim met each other in the midst of this time, introduced by a homeless friend, and they fell in love. They became homeless together for a short period of time, and Sam discovered that she was pregnant with Tim’s child.
Sam moved in with friends, and as the baby’s birth drew close, moved into my house. She is fully supported by Tim and she supports Tim. And now that Paloma is with them, no hardship, no difficulty, nothing will cause them to go back to addiction. Sam now has contacts and visits with her other children regularly, and she cares for her new baby. She works part time for Anawim Christian Community, a church supporting the homeless community in East Multnomah County.
Why am I writing this? Because I am hoping that you will give them a chance. Yes, they have made some mistakes—perhaps a lot of mistakes—but that doesn’t change the fact that you will not meet a more compassionate, faithful couple than this one. They need a chance and they deserve one. Please be the person that gives them that chance to start a new life together.
Pastor of Anawim Christian Community
I wrote that letter six years ago. Tim is still working for the printer. They now have another child together, Elijah, who was a drummer as soon as he had some control over his arms. Paloma and Elijah are beautiful, happy, energetic kids. After they moved out of my place, they moved into a one-bedroom tiny home.
They stayed in that home for a year and then they moved into a three bedroom apartment, where they are now. Sam’s daughters, April and Eryn moved in with them. April eventually moved out and got married. Sam and Tim sport dreads now, and go to cool hippie concerts. They have way surpassed me in coolness.
In the end, if a community supports a homeless family, both the community and the family wins. It doesn’t mean everything will be perfect. I didn’t mention a lot of issues and problems along the way. It is support and love that makes life thrive.
God bless you guys. With all my love, Steve
Every other year, main metropolitan areas do a “Point in Time” count of the homeless. It always occurs near the end of January, and the idea is to physically count folks on the street, so the government knows how much to spend, to find out if certain strategies are working.
A month ago, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released a report saying that homelessness has gone down 31 percent since 2007. That’s quite a decrease! Perhaps we are solving the issues!
Before we take time to celebrate, let’s look at some facts. First of all, in 2007, there was a jump in homelessness because of the mortgage crisis, so perhaps those numbers were chosen to make the decrease seem more dramatic.
These numbers also don’t count the total homeless. They only count those who are currently living without any kind of shelter. So those in transitional houses, those staying with friends, those in motels, those in temporary shelters aren’t being counted. In fact, the number of folks in shelters and transitional homes have increased. And more people have moved into permanent low income homes than ever before. So the numbers might very well reflect this.
Also, while we are seeing a dramatic decrease of homelessness in small cities and rural areas, the large cities such as New York, Washington DC and Portland are seeing increases of homelessness. So while California as a whole has reduced their homeless issues, cities with housing prices increasing also have homelessness increasing. For instance, San Francisco has increased their homeless numbers by 22 percent.
This year’s count numbers are still to come in, so the final word isn’t out, but those of us in larger urban settings have a lot more work to do.