How Old is “Homeless?” Part II: Too Damn Young

advocacy, economics, justice

There’s no “right” age for homelessness. But what’s the average age of homeless people in the US or in particular regions? Perhaps even more importantly, why is this information so hard to find?

I said a few days ago and the week before that the average age of homeless people in the Lehigh Valley is 9.   A few days ago I said that according to some organizations, the same was true of the national average.

As is often the case, the truth is more complex.  It may be even more disturbing.  The following comes from a local expert, someone previously unmentioned in this space.  We’ve already discussed some of this (such as varying definitions of homelessness):

Long answer:
The [national] number [9] is disputed by some statisticians and to an extent depends on the definition of homeless. Certainly it’s not true of the street homeless, but when you add families doubling up, shelters and those on shelter waiting lists and such (new definition HEARTH Act), it might be justified. The doubled up population increased by 12% to more than 6 million people from 2008 to 2009. In Rhode Island the number increased by 90 percent; in South Dakota the number more than doubled. Older stats document that 41% of the homeless population (not doubled up, but documented as homeless under the old McKinney-Vento definition) is comprised of families (National Alliance to End Homelessness). 23% of the homeless population consists of children, of which 42% are under 5 years of age (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty taken the 2007 US Conference of Mayors Survey). Those percentages are higher in rural areas (Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Homeless Children and Families in Small-Town America, The University Press of Kentucky).

A study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice in 2010 looked at New York City shelter residents only. The percentage of children age 0 to 2 was higher than any other age cohort, at least twice as high as any other age cohort except adults between the ages of 21 to 23. One-third of all NYC shelter residents were under 12 years of age. “The results also indicate that poor single parent (most female headed) families have faced an increased risk of homelessness when the mothers and children are relatively young, with the peak period of risk for the mothers being between 21 and 24 years of age, a time when they are parenting infants and toddlers.”

Short answer:
More than 10% of the homeless population under the current definition of those eligible for federal homeless services are children under 5 years of age and that number is growing. When you add that the fastest growing cohort of homeless are families with children, followed by unaccompanied youth, there is some justification for the claim that the average age of a homeless person is 9.

Child Welfare League of America:
http://www.cwla.org/programs/housing/housingpubspage.htm

 

Here’s what I want to highlight:

  • “More than 10% of the homeless population under the current definition of those eligible for federal homeless services are children under 5 years of age and that number is growing..the fastest growing cohort of homeless are families with children, followed by unaccompanied youth.”
  • “23% of the homeless population consists of children, of which 42% are under 5 years of age.”
  • “One-third of all NYC shelter residents were under 12 years of age. The 0-2 cohort was higher than any other age cohort, at least twice as high as any other age cohort except adults between the ages of 21 to 23.

I’ll stop using the number “nine.”  I’ll use these numbers instead.

“More than 10% of the homeless population under the current definition of those eligible for federal homeless services are children under 5 years of age and that number is growing..the fastest growing cohort of homeless are families with children, followed by unaccompanied youth.”

I feel like I can’t stress that enough.

I don’t have a solid Lehigh Valley number to report, but that’s fine.  I’m working with a group of people whose mission is nothing short of ending homelessness in Allentown.  The question will be moot.

4 thoughts on “How Old is “Homeless?” Part II: Too Damn Young

  1. I’m going to stick to my guns and say that determining an exact average age doesn’t matter. This seems too quickly to lead down the path of who constitutes the “deserving poor” – i.e., who deserves our empathy and support, such as children and other people who are blameless for their condition (in other words, not addicts and not former inmates). What if we determined that the average age of homelessness was 22, or 54? Would that it make it more okay than if the average is 9? I don’t think so. True, we might adjust policy to focus on one thing more than another based in part on age (and need) but I think determining this number is more an effort to produce shock value than anything that will help the homeless, young or old.

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    1. I think I agree. But I do think more people need to know that homelessness isn’t just about people on the street or other preconceived notions. Some of this information helps with that, especially as it pertains to these awful economic times for working families and out of work families (and many, many others).

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  2. OK, your new line (More than 10% of the homeless population…) makes the point without using shocking statistics that are false. Homeless is tragic problem that can be solved, but the cause isn’t served well by misleading statistics.

    “… there is some justification for the claim that the average age of a homeless person is 9.” Nope. I can’t see any justification for a made up statistic. If all homelessness cases were a single 23 year old mother with twins of age 2 – you get to an average age of 9. But those darn homeless 50-year men just mess everything up! For every 50-yr old homeless man, you need a homeless family consisting of a single 23-year mother with 8(!) two-year olds to get the average back to an average of 9. Unless we have had a sudden tremendous surge in homeless orphaned infants the average age of 9 simply can’t be correct. If over half of the homeless are children under the age of 18 and an overwhelming majority of those are elementary aged or younger you might approach a *median* age of 9, but from the stats I’ve seen it’s not close.

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