Beyond Homelessness: Frames of Reference

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Proceeds to aid the homeless. The Homeless -- Late in the s, Americans began to notice more people sleeping in public places and wandering the streets. By the late s, the homeless were everywhere -- a grim reminder of America's social and economic troubles.

Renowned social analyst Jencks discusses the causes and extent of this problem and what can be done about it. Line illustrations and tables. When I first saw this book, I was intrigued by the title. Who, or what, are The Mole People?

Beyond Homelessness Frames of Reference

The single-contact census is a technique that has been used in cities to make estimates of the size of their homeless populations. The census is usually taken by teams of individuals in a clearly defined area where preliminary studies suggest that the largest proportion of the homeless population can be found. A screening questionnaire, or, at the very least, instructions for selecting individuals to approach, are given to the teams conducting the census. Under optimum conditions the census should be conducted in a single day, preferably during a time of day when the homeless people are most likely to be stationary, such as late at night.

However, for practical reasons, many censuses of this type are conducted over a short period of time with some mechanism for recognizing and eliminating duplications. The advantages of a single-contact census are twofold: It provides for direct contact, even if only by observation so that the possibility of counting individuals more than once is reduced, and there is greater assurance that the people contacted fit the study's definition of homelessness.

In addition, demographics and other information can be obtained that may be crucial to determining the type and level of services that need to be provided for this population.

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There are also two primary disadvantages of a single-contact census. The census provides a cross-sectional view of the population at a single point in time, but because the homeless population appears to be in a constant state of flux Bachrach, ; Bassuk, ; Lamb, ; Fischer and Breakey, , it is out of date almost immediately after it is taken. Moreover, it may poorly represent the true homeless population if taken at the wrong time. If, for example, the number of homeless people on the streets is reduced on the few days after welfare or various types of social assistance payments become available, the number of homeless people may be underestimated.

Another disadvantage of a single-contact census is that it is expensive relative to indirect estimation. It is necessary to use a team of enumerators to comb areas of the city where data are being collected. For reasons of safety, workers are usually deployed in teams of at least two people who are often accompanied by off-duty police officers. Staffing costs are thus quite high. An excellent single-contact census of the urban homeless was conducted in Washington, D.

Benedict Giamo

The study was carefully designed, and its techniques and assumptions are carefully documented. The investigators counted all the residents of the various shelters in Washington on a specific night, July 31, , and obtained counts of homeless people in hospitals and other institutions. They supplemented this with a search of other places on the streets where people may be found at night. The city was divided into 20 count areas, with an enumerating team assigned to each area. The enumerators worked in pairs; each pair included a research assistant and a person experienced in working with the homeless.

The investigators recognized that a certain number of homeless people would fail to be counted either because their appearance was unremarkable or because they chose concealed locations in which to sleep. An intensive search was therefore made in one area of the city with an augmented team that included a police officer to judge to what extent the less intensive counts may have failed to find homeless individuals who were hidden from view. A series of five estimates were made, based on the direct counts and including corrections for the two sources of error, underenumeration because people were not identified as homeless and underenumeration because people were actively avoiding being counted.

Homelessness and strategies of identity maintenance: a participant observation study

The estimates ranged from 4, to 7,, with the highest value being 64 percent larger than the lowest value. Other recent single-count censuses have been conducted in a number of cities by surveying homeless people at sites that provide services, such as shelters, soup kitchens, and social service departments Brown et al.

However, with survey sites of this sort there is an increased risk of duplication. This risk can be minimized by including brief screening questions and by restricting the data collection activities to a relatively short period. Surveys at sites that provide services can also have the problem of being dependent on agency personnel who may abandon or ignore the data collection because it interferes with their provision of services. Multiple-count studies expand on the single-count methodology by conducting counts at two or more points in time. These studies are designed so that the counts are combined to produce a single estimate.

Such studies provide additional information about changes in the population over time, documenting seasonal and other variations. A recent study of this type was conducted in Chicago in and , by Rossi and colleagues First, all homeless people in shelters were counted. Then, in order to estimate the number of street people, a survey design was developed to sample blocks in the city where homeless people were expected to concentrate according to information obtained from police and other informants.

These blocks were then surveyed by research workers accompanied by police officers. This process was repeated 6 months later. Despite much effort, the yield of homeless people on the streets that were counted by this technique was very low, with only 22 being identified on the first occasion and 28 on the second.

Based on these institutional and street samples, estimates were derived for the total homeless population of Chicago.

Research Interests

The estimates, 5, on the first occasion and 3, on the second, were widely criticized by people familiar with homelessness in Chicago as being much too low. Previous estimates, derived by indirect methods, ranged from 12, to 25, Chicago Department of Human Services, Another finding that casts doubt on the conclusions of this study is that no children were included in the counts of people on the streets, though families with small children are believed to make up as much as 40 percent of Chicago's homeless population U.

Conference of Mayors, Applebaum points out that many of the homeless people contacted on the streets may have denied that they were homeless. It is amazing that in a sample of blocks identified as likely places to encounter the homeless, only 22 of individuals encountered would be homeless in phase I of the study, and only 28 of would be homeless in phase II. Rossi and associates admitted that even when the police officers who accompanied the interviewers were not immediately introduced, subjects were always able to identify them as police officers, and therefore, they started the interaction on a negative note.

Research Interests

In addition, the teams conducted preliminary observations of the blocks before any formal screening started, thereby tipping off a naturally suspicious population to their presence. Having two counts enabled the investigators to comment on the differences in the findings obtained in October compared with those obtained in March In view of the methodological problems described above, however, the validity of these conclusions must be held in question. Another multiple-count census was done in Nashville Wiegard, , where the homeless were counted on four separate occasions the first day of each season over the course of a year.

Because Nashville is a much smaller city, the elaborate sampling frame used in the Chicago study was not needed and the entire downtown area could be surveyed during a single night. Demographic distributions observed at different times were used to draw conclusions about the changing nature of the homeless population in Nashville.

The study concluded that although the estimated numbers of homeless people varied relatively little, from to , the ratios of homeless found in shelters compared with the homeless found on the streets varied with the seasons. During the winter the ratio was found to be , but in the fall the ratio was Such ratios have been a focus of interest in several studies, including the study done for New York State by its Department of Social Services described above.


The HUD report used an estimate that the shelter to street ratio was about Bobo, This estimate was derived from ratios of estimated for Boston Boston Emergency Shelter Commission, , for Pittsburgh Winograd, , and for Phoenix Brown et al. Freeman and Hall attempted to use a ratio of this sort based on a survey of about homeless people in New York City to make generalizations about the national homeless population. Apart from the obvious criticism that there is no logical basis for generalizing from New York City to the country as a whole, the many problems with this study included the local and unusual nature of their survey sample and their failure to take into account the cyclical patterns of homelessness.

In attempting to generalize from their ratios to the national level, they based their estimates on the flawed HUD data and failed to take into account the variability of street: shelter ratios described above for various cities. Their conclusions, therefore, must be interpreted with considerable skepticism. Capture-recapture methods go beyond multiple-count methods by matching data on individuals observed at two or more points in time.

They thus permit certain conclusions about the movement of individuals in and out of the population, as well as statistics about the population from which the sample was drawn. Capture-recapture techniques involve matching observations of individuals made at each of two or more data collection periods.

Benedict Giamo (Author of Homeless Come Home)

In wildlife populations, for which this technique was developed, captured animals were tagged for ready identification on recapture. Matching of homeless individuals is achieved by using a combination of name, Social Security number, birth date, sex, race, and other unique identifiers.

In matching subjects from the first observation to the second, the resulting data can be tabulated as shown in Table B The values in Table B-1 represent counts of people observed at different times: N 1 represents the count of those obtained during the first data collection period, N 2 represents the count of those obtained during the second data collection period, and M represents the number matched, that is, the number observed both times.

The only number missing from Table B-1 that cannot be easily calculated by subtraction is the number of people in the population not observed in either the first or second period.

Two estimates of the number of homeless people in an area are possible from Table B The first assumes that the census was complete and that the missing cell not observed in either period actually should have an entry of one. This estimate would then be merely a lower bound to the actual number of homeless, since in reality no census is complete and there are hidden homeless who remain uncounted no matter how strenuous an effort is made.

A second estimate can be calculated from Table B-1 that does not assume that there are no hidden homeless, and this is the estimate by the capture-recapture method. This assumes that each data collection is imperfect, that there is some probability at each data collection that individuals will be missed, and that consequently there is some unknown probability that individuals will be missed both times. Capture-recapture estimates have been used for biometric applications for several hundred years, chiefly in making estimates of the size of wildlife populations, and the basic estimator Equation B-2 has been rederived in several different contexts.

One of the earliest use of capture-recapture techniques for human populations was for the evaluation of the completeness of birth and death records Chandrasekar and Deming, The most common application currently is for the evaluation of population and agriculture censuses Cowan et al. Also called dual-system estimation in this context, evaluations of censuses by capture-recapture studies have been conducted in the United States, Paraguay, Bangladesh, India, and other countries.

The evaluation of the census and use of the capture-recapture method in Somalia is of particular interest, since 60 percent of that country's population is nomadic and, in this respect, is similar to a homeless population. Additional information on a population can be obtained from making more than two observations. In recent years, maximum likelihood techniques have been used to derive estimates for use in studies involving several sampling periods Bishop et al.

There are two studies of homeless populations that make use of capture-recapture techniques. The first was a study of the number of homeless men in Sydney, Australia Darcy and Jones, In that study of homeless men, three 1-day censuses were conducted at 25 locations including shelters, hospitals, clinics, and a jail, on June 30, ; October 13, ; and March 8, Using Equation B-2, three estimates of the number of homeless men were obtained by comparing the three sets of data, two at a time, with the following results: June to October, 3,; June to March, 4,; and October to March, 3, The authors used a related technique that makes use of information from all three data sets to yield an overall estimate of the number of homeless men in Sydney 3, They also estimated the average "birth" and "death" rates for men entering and leaving the homeless population to be 21 and 5 percent, respectively, indicating that the homeless population was increasing over the period of the study.

It should be noted from the estimates presented above that the longer the interval between counts, the higher the estimate. The authors noted that the intervals between censuses were sufficiently long to allow entry and exit from the homeless population, through moving in and out of Sydney, deaths, and so on, so that the numbers of matches were reduced.

If shorter time intervals had been used, it might be supposed that the estimates would have been lower. The other study that used the capture-recapture method was conducted in Baltimore in and Cowan et al.