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Disagreement over the number of homeless people in Michigan

Oct 31, 2014

Federal and state officials disagree on the number of chronic homeless that are living in Michigan.

In its 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said that Michigan had a 6.1% increase in homelessness cases from 2013 to 2014, one of the highest in the nation, up 700 from 11,527 to 12,227. 

Estimates of homeless people by state.
Credit US Department of Housing and Urban Development

The Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness estimates that this number could be up to eight times as high, with a total of 92,341 homeless individuals.

Why the difference?

Eric Hufnagel, executive director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, explains it's likely because of how the data was collected.

HUD officials came up with their number using "point in time" counting that measures the homeless on one night in the last week of January.

Hufnagel calls this "point-in-time" counting.

“Point-in-time, one-day counts vastly undercount the number of homeless," said Hufnagel. "The value of the [point-in-time] count is communities can use it as a measurement from year to year ... It’s more about looking for trends but it’s not good for using the overall estimation of the number of people homeless through the year.”

In contrast, Hufnagel says the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness uses a statewide database for its estimates. This database is used by 580 agencies that provide services to homeless individuals throughout Michigan.

Fed and state officials have vastly different estimates for the number of homeless individuals in Michigan.
Credit Ed Yourdan / flickr.com

Hufnagel says the database has a much broader and richer array of data than point-in-time counting. He says the data includes specific information about demographics, precipitating factors to homelessness, and the outcomes of services.

Hufnagel says the state uses the data to realign state funding.

Despite the discrepancy in both the homeless estimates, both HUD and MCAH agree that improvements are being made that will help reduce the number of homeless locally and nationwide.

According to HUD Secretary Julian Castro during the National Alliance to End Homelessness 2014 National Conference

"Because of [HUD's emphasis on providing housing] in just three years-we've seen an 8% drop in family homelessness...we've seen a 16% drop in chronic homelessness...we've seen a remarkable 24% reduction in homelessness among veterans."

 

- Ari Sandberg, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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