A domestic violence survivor sits with her son for dinner in their new apartment in New York. Among the goals of counting people who are homeless because of domestic violence is to understand how best to steer them into permanent, safe housing.; Bebeto Matthews, The Associated Press
In its annual count of the city’s homeless population, New York in 2015 listed how many people fit into 10 different groups: nearly 4,000 chronically homeless, more than 8,000 severely mentally ill, 1,500 veterans, and so on. But when the list got to victims of domestic violence, the annual federally mandated count showed one striking number: zero.
Far from the reality on the ground — nearly a third of homeless families with children have experienced domestic violence, according to the city’s Department of Social Services — the glaring statistical gap in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Point-in-Time count was a red flag for advocates who work with victims every day.
Without an accurate count of people who are homeless because of domestic violence, communities across the country can’t fully understand and serve their homeless population, said Carol Corden, one of those advocates.
“If you ignore them, you ignore a major part of homelessness,” said Corden, the executive director of New York-based New Destiny Housing, which connects low-income victims of domestic violence with affordable permanent housing.
This year, after lobbying from advocates for homeless women and children like Corden, the annual count will for the first time ask people whether they are currently homeless because of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking. HUD had previously suggested that communities ask homeless people if they had ever experienced domestic violence, but the narrower question will help paint a more accurate picture, Corden said.
The Point-in-Time count, a one-night survey of the country’s homeless population, includes unsheltered homeless people, such as those living on the streets or in cars, and sheltered homeless people, including those in transitional housing or subsidized hotel stays. (The count does not include people in rapid rehousing or permanent supportive housing programs.) The snapshot is mandatory for communities looking to receive federal grants to help pay for local homeless services.
Communities, led by their local homeless agencies, this year can choose any of the last 10 days of January to conduct the count. In the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, for example, the count is Jan. 24. In the Charlotte area, it’s Jan. 31.
Along with asking about domestic violence, officials and volunteers will scour their streets and shelters, asking homeless people where they are staying that night, how many members of their family are staying in the same location, whether they have HIV or a severe mental illness, and whether they are a veteran, a chronic substance abuser, or chronically homeless. Some participants decline to answer, even though the results remain anonymous. While the survey is not exact, the count provides a general estimate of homelessness in the community.
This year’s question was added because HUD officials determined that asking whether homeless people had been a victim of domestic violence in the past wasn’t telling them whether they were homeless because of that violence. William Snow, who works in HUD’s Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs, made this point clear when, earlier this month, he briefed local officials across the country about the upcoming count.