Stateline Story

Census Releases Data on Homeless

Census-takers counted more people sleeping in homeless shelters in California and New York last year than in any other state.

Nationally, 170,706 people were in emergency and homeless shelters on March 27, 2000, according to a controversial Census Bureau report released last month. (10/30).

The report was released earlier than the Census Bureau planned after criticism from Democratic members of Congress, who said the bureau was trying to conceal the count.

Officials released only the number of people found sleeping in shelters but not the number of those counted who were sleeping on the street, eating at soup kitchens, or living in domestic-violence shelters. The government spent about $10 million trying to count the homeless last year.

The Census Bureau stressed that the shelter figures shouldn't be construed as a tabulation of the total population of "people experiencing homelessness."

Barbara Duffield, spokeswoman for the National Coalition for the Homeless, said the Census numbers "are essentially meaningless."

Duffield said the numbers, which show that the number of people in emergency shelters decreased by about 8,000 since 1990, bear no resemblance to what localities have experienced.

A recent report by the Urban Institute estimated that at least 800,000 people are in homeless situations on any given night, with between 2.3 million and 3. 5 million people experiencing homelessness at least once over the course of a year.

Some homeless advocates say a public count of the homeless heightens their visibility and promotes funding for assistance programs, but Duffield said, "This report isn't going to change anything."

The Census report said:

  • The sharpest percentage decrease in the nation's shelter population was in Pennsylvania. In 1990, Census-takers found 8,237 people in shelters, representing 4.6 percent of the nation's homeless. The 2000 count found 5,463 people in shelters, or 3.2 percent of the total.
  • New York had the most people in shelters in 2000, with 31,856, followed by California with 27,701. North Dakota had the lowest number of people in shelters, with 178.
  • Last year, 61 percent of the emergency and transitional shelter population was male, and 39 percent was female. People 18 and over represented 74 percent of the shelter population.