We recently read an article “Cold comfort: U.S. homeless shelters overwhelmed in brutal weather,” which shared how overwhelmed shelters are and not just in the US. For example, homeless are dying in places typically known for their warmth, like Texas.
Homelessness is on the rise in the United States, according to federal survey data released last month, which said 553,742 people lacked homes on a given night in 2017.
What most people probably are not aware of is that homelessness is very, very undercounted. In Delaware, for example, there is only one night a year in which the number of people on the streets are counted. This one night is called Point In Time (PIT). I don’t know if this is true across the country, but it is quite unnerving. Many homeless are transient, many homeless are not necessarily roofless. Many homeless youth are trafficked, receiving shelter for sex, yes even here in little ol’ Delaware. They will not appear in the head count of homeless people in the state. Hearing the number has grown nationwide, and yet is still significantly lower than actuality, well I find that unnerving.
The 2015 PIT Count in Delaware was conducted January 29, 2015. These people can be in shelters, motels paid by voucher or wandering the streets. On that date, 950 people were homeless in Delaware. Now this is what I know, the school district in which we live has a homelessness advocate who reported that their schools were dealing with 840 homeless families. How can one school district have 840 homeless families and yet the state’s PIT says there are 950 people homeless?
Back to cold spells… if we’re under counting, it makes sense that our shelters have waiting lists and are overwhelmed, right? Something to give thought, I suppose. Nobody should be left in the cold. When we provide people on the street with our 3B bags we include the names, locations and numbers to multiple shelters. We also let them know if it is a “code purple” night which means emergency sanctuary shelters are open to help them.
I think more needs to be done to understand this issue. We are helping with nutritional security and spreading awareness, but while the data is inaccurate, the respources given to foundations assisting will continue to be very low.