Friday, November 9, 2007

Seattle Rejects HUD Propaganda Offensive

If ever there was a government agency that deserved absolutely no credit for ending homelessness, it would be HUD. This is the agency that hasn't spend a dime on new public housing since 2001, and has actually lost 100,000 units since 1996. This week, they cooked some stats and shuffled around some dough to serve up big bowls of media pap about winning the war on homelessness.

Some ate less heartily than others. The Washington Post, which has apparently been reduced to simply editing government press releases for length before dropping them into the paper, was one of the worst. Their idea of balance was to use a quote from USICH lapdog National Alliance to End Homelessness:

"In the past few years, there has been a significant investment in ending chronic homelessness, both in time and resources," said Mary Cunningham, director of the Homelessness Research Institute at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

"Communities across the country are really working hard on this issue," she said. "It would be a major disappointment if the numbers were not going down."

Yeah. Totally major. Thanks for the critical perspective Mary.

The New York Times passed on it altogether and instead ran this utterly depressing but excellent piece of reporting on the escalating numbers of homeless veterans.

Special traits of the current wars may contribute to homelessness, including high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and traumatic brain injury, which can cause unstable behavior and substance abuse, and the long and repeated tours of duty, which can make the reintegration into families and work all the harder.

Frederick Johnson, 37, an Army reservist, slept in abandoned houses shortly after returning to Chester, Pa., from a year in Iraq, where he experienced daily mortar attacks and saw mangled bodies of soldiers and children. He started using crack cocaine and drinking, burning through $6,000 in savings.

“I cut myself off from my family and went from being a pleasant guy to wanting to rip your head off if you looked at me wrong,” Mr. Johnson said.

God I hate this fucking war. The LA Times also passed on the HUD propaganda-fest and picked up on an AP version of the homeless vets story as well, and the Boston Globe took a similar route.

The NAEH just released a new report, Vital Mission: Ending Homelessness Among Veterans, which says that one in four homeless people are vets and contains this factoid: "approximately 89,553 to 467,877 veterans are at risk of homelessness. At risk is defined as being below the poverty level and paying more than 50 percent of household income on rent. It also includes households with a member who has a disability, a person living alone, and those who are not in the labor force.

The DC poverty pimps published an important report and managed to eclipse a HUD non-event in the process. Kills me to say it, but ... nice work. In the face of all this, the USICH website, which carries the HUD press release and links to their favorite story (USA Today), says they have homelessness among vets on the run as well. Here's my favorite quote by USICH poo-bah Phil fucking Mangano.

"When McKinney-Vento was first passed, this technology developed in the mental health system of response was not in common use. Today communities across the country are targeting this technology to those experiencing chronic homelessness and achieving 80-85% retention rates on average."

He's talking about housing there. Where does he get this stuff?

Here in Seattle, the Post-Intelligencer story was admirably critical, and SKCCH Executive Director Alison Eisinger was Kennedy-esque on KUOW.

Jeremy Rosen over at the National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness did a really nice job of banging out a quick fact-check of the HUD press release, and here's what he had to say:

In July of 2001, then HUD Secretary Mel Martinez declared a goal of ending “chronic” homelessness by 2011 – a modest goal considering that the “chronic” homeless population is at most 10% of the overall homeless population over the course of a year. HUD and the US Interagency Council on Homelessness declared that this goal could be met by providing 150,000 new units of permanent supportive housing. Beginning in 2002, HUD began working to achieve this goal, primarily by shifting existing resources from programs serving other homeless populations, but also through targeting of the new homeless assistance grant funding provided each year.

Between 2002 and early 2007, HUD frequently asserted that “chronic” homelessness was being reduced, but no data was released to support this claim. In February, HUD released its first “Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.” Citing January, 2005 data collected as part of Continuum of Care applications, the number of chronically homeless persons was listed as 169,879 persons. This is a different number than the 175, 914 people who HUD’s press release cited as being “chronically” homeless in 2005. Since HUD did not release any data to support the numbers listed in their press release, it is hard to account for this variance. But whichever number you take, it would certainly appear that “chronic” homelessness did not decline between 2001 and 2005.

With respect to the ”new” 2005 to 2006 data, both national and local advocates have noted methodological concerns. In a USA Today article, staff for the National Alliance to End Homelessness commented that it can be difficult to determine whether or not an individual living on the street is disabled and that some cities have seen increases in “chronic” homelessness even as other cities have seen declines. HUD’s release acknowledges this, stating that over 1,500 of 3,900 communities reported decreases in “chronic” homelessness, meaning that 2,400 communities showed increases.

And in a Daytona Beach News-Journal article, Volusia/Flagler County Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Lindsay Roberts dismissed the HUD announcement, attributing any decreases in “chronic” homelessness to HUD’s changing standards for how communities have been instructed to count homeless persons. According to Roberts and local officials, their area’s point in time count of all homeless people, which includes the category of “chronic” homeless persons, dropped from 2,660 to 1,478 – not because of new housing opportunities but instead because HUD required them to use new methods for estimating the extent of homelessness in their community. Among these changes, HUD no longer allowed them to “count homeless people who were in jail or hospitals more than 30 days, or people sharing places with another person in a hotel.” As Roberts concluded, “If you torture the numbers enough, you can make them tell you anything. I think they would really like the picture to be rosier. I think it's justification of not providing adequate funding to address the genuine need. Skewing the numbers doesn't make these people go away." Without more information from HUD on how rules for counting homeless persons have changed, any reported decrease in “chronic” homelessness remains suspect.

In addition, HUD efforts to focus federal homeless assistance resources on the “chronic” homeless population have had a profound impact on homelessness among children, youth, and families. At the same time that New York City cited a decrease in “chronic” homelessness, the city also reported a record number of homeless families. Similar issues have occurred in Philadelphia, where funding for successful housing and services programs for homeless families was reduced in order to focus on “chronically” homeless individuals – an effort that even organizations serving the homeless street population have criticized. Increases in family homelessness help to explain why HUD is unable to report any overall decrease in homelessness.
So, what does this reported 11.5 percent drop in homelessness mean? Not all that much. Mostly, it means that some people are desperate enough to show success that they don't care how much damage they have to do to truth to get there. Alison nailed it:

"While we would applaud a genuine decrease in either chronic homelessness or homelessness, because after all that is what we are all working night and day to accomplish, we would really appreciate fewer press conferences and more investment in additional Section 8 vouchers and in substantial changes to how we house the people of this country."


Bill said...

It does all summarize nicely into our saying to HUD and its many cronies that "THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU!" When they quote what the number was versus what it is and pat themselves on the back and maybe forget how to count in the process, it is akin to some form of narcissism, hardly even qualifying as caring for one's neighbor from a faith stance or being concerned from a moral position as a global citizen. This "me-ism" of HUD and its cronies is an verifiably addictive behavior. Maybe HUD should use some of its funds on itself. Or, "Go straight to jail. Do not pass go." Let us guide the ship o' state.

personal injury said...

Here, I don't actually consider it is likely to have effect.