Here’s the CNN headline: “Report: 1 in 50 American children homeless”
Here’s the top of the article: “(CNN) — One in 50 children is homeless in the United States every year, according to a report released Tuesday.”
The photo on the article showed a mother and children (one in a baby stroller) walking through what seems to be a park. They’re homeless, right? But it seems unlikely that 1 in 50 children live in parks, so I looked for the “study.” It’s from the “National Center on Family Homelessness,” which is no doubt a public interest group with no interest at all in inflating the numbers. (Do groups like that ever report good news? Ever?) And after visiting their website, I managed to find a little on their methods of counting.
The “study” claims that “OVER 1.5 MILLION OF OUR NATION’S CHILDREN GO TO SLEEP WITHOUT A HOME EACH YEAR.” By “each year,” they mean “at least one night a year.” But what does “without a home” mean? Well, I was evidently homeless as a child. When my father changed jobs, we stayed with friends. We also stayed for a time in a — horrors! — trailer park! If you do that, you are counted as homeless, as the criteria include:
• Sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or a similar reason (sometimes referred to as doubled-up);
• Living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to lack of alternative accommodations;
Other friends of my parents also stayed with us while looking for work or transitioning into new jobs, as did relatives. So all of us children would have been counted as “homeless” by the criteria applied by the National Center on Family Homelessness.
It’s worth repeating that if you did that for one night out of a year, you are counted by the National Center on Family Homelessness as “homeless”: “These data come from a Point-in-Time (PIT) count and therefore do not tell us how many people are homeless in a given year, but only those counted on a given night.”
There does not seem to be any discussion of whether “homelessness” as the National Center defines it is getting worse or better. I searched for the word trend in the report and it appeared once, en passant in a discussion of data sources on academic proficiency and the National Assessment of Educational Progress; that is to say, there seems to be no discussion at all of trends regarding “homelesness.” Similarly for “change,” which did not discover any discussion of “changes” in homelessness. (I also note that the numbers are for 2005-2006, but I will need to study this more carefully to determine whether they are referring to two calendar years or a 12 month period that straddles those years.)
This deserves more study. The headlines and the claims that “One in fifty American children was homeless in 2005-2006” sure caught my attention. But it seems that, by those standards, I was a homeless child. And such claims do violence to meaningful language and represent a deliberate deception of the public.
This is a serious issue. What seems to be a deliberately misleading “study” does not advance our knowledge of the topic. Kids living in parks or shuttled in and out of residency motels by local bureaucracies are in bad situations, the causes of which deserve serious study in order to remedy the problem. Counting my childhood as a “homeless” one merely mocks their condition and does nothing to advance our understanding. (After a more careful study, I’ll get back to this. There may be some answers to my objections, but I could not find any with a quick read. If anyone finds any, please let me know. I suspect, based on the shoddiness of the report, that I will just find more deception, but I will work to keep an open mind.)