New HUD Homeless Data Grossly Undercounts Children and Youth

Decline in rate misleading and Fast Facts about children, youth and homelessness

Government data released yesterday grossly undercount homeless children, youth and families, and set the stage for conflict over the proper direction of local, state and federal resources and policy.

The 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report Part I (AHAR), published by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), estimates that 53,692 parents and children experienced homelessness during the agency’s January 2019 count.

Congress and local communities use HUD’s homelessness figures to help inform determinations about priorities for funding, services, and action. Yet educators, service providers, and child advocates say other data sources provide a more realistic picture of homelessness.

The HUD figures, derived from a “point-in-time” count, are significantly lower than those released by the Department of Education. Public schools identified more than 1.5 million homeless students in the 2017-2018 school year according to preliminary data from the Department of Education, a 10 percent increase since the previous school year.

In addition, the landmark 2017 study Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America, from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found that 4.2 million young people experienced unaccompanied homelessness over a 12-month period.

HUD’s “point-in-time” count includes the people physically counted on the streets or in shelters during a single night in January. This street-count method misses the majority of families and youth experiencing homelessness, who typically do not stay in shelters or on the streets but instead are in motels or staying temporarily with others due to lack of alternatives.

The U.S. Department of Education uses a comprehensive definition and approach that more accurately reflects the fluid and inherently unstable nature of homelessness. Lack of appropriate shelter options, fear of child welfare authorities and the safety of shelters, and reductions in transitional housing explain why most families and youth who are homeless are not in shelter or on the streets. Extensive research indicates that homeless children and youth who are staying with others are just as vulnerable as those in shelters or even sleeping outside.

First Focus Campaign for Children, SchoolHouse Connection, National Network for Youth, and Family Promise support current efforts to align definitions of homelessness across federal agencies and to give communities more flexibility in determining the most appropriate uses of HUD homeless funding.

The bipartisan Homeless Children and Youth Act (HCYA)/H.R. 2001 addresses these shortcomings in HUD’s counts and makes other improvements in federal policies to serve homeless families and youth. The legislation targets children and youth, but ultimately will reduce homelessness among all populations by helping keep today’s homeless children and youth from becoming tomorrow’s homeless adults.

In addition, the Senate unanimously adopted a bipartisan resolution sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Susan Collins (R-ME) (S. Res 423) to recognize November as National Homeless Children and Youth Awareness Month. It is the first resolution to recognize both child and youth homelessness, from infancy to young adulthood and it includes information about the extent and impact of child and youth homelessness. The resolution also supports the efforts of businesses, organizations, educators and volunteers to meet the needs of homeless children and youth.


  • Most children and families experiencing homelessness do not stay in shelters or other official venues:
    • Under the Department of Education, public schools identified over 1.3 million homeless children and youth in 2016-2017. Of these, 4 percent were unsheltered, and 6 percent were staying in shelters when they were first identified as homeless. The rest stayed in motels or with others due to a lack of alternatives. Children and youth move frequently between these situations.
    • Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America estimated that 4.2 million youth aged 13 to 24 experienced homelessness. Nearly three-quarters of them stayed not in shelters, transitional housing or on the streets, but with others.
    • Families and youth are more likely to stay temporarily with other people or in motels – situations that are very unstable, often unsafe, and put them at risk of trafficking. These more hidden forms of homelessness have been shown to have impacts that are equally negative as being homeless on the streets.
  • Most families with children and unaccompanied youth seek alternative shelter options because:
    • Shelters and transitional housing are often full; do not serve families as a unit; do not accept unaccompanied minor youth, or simply do not exist in their communities.
    • Parents fear having their children removed from their custody if they stay on the street or in other outdoor locations. Unaccompanied homeless youth fear interactions with authorities and exploitation by adults.
    • Since 2010, HUD has reduced capacity to serve families and youth at shelters and transitional housing by 24,185 beds. 

Child advocates issued the following statements in response to HUD’s release:

The experiences of families facing homelessness are diverse. Some are sleeping in their cars, some are doubled up, some are in motels, some are in shelter. However, all are vulnerable. Imposing definitions on this fluid dynamic underpinned by the core issue of housing instability is illogical, counterproductive, and cruel. We need to understand the entirety of the crisis and take actions that address homelessness and lead us to systemic change that will prevent it in the first place. -Claas Ehlers, CEO of Family Promise

“We cannot intentionally undercount and purposefully ignore the trauma that so many homeless children and youth are facing in our country. What we can do is take immediate steps by passing common-sense, bipartisan solutions like the Homeless Children and Youth Act (H.R. 2001), which would acknowledge their trauma and help them get the support they need.”-Bruce Lesley, president, First Focus Campaign for Children

“HUD’s data perpetuates a fundamentally dishonest conversation about homelessness. It keeps homeless children, youth, and families invisible, and ignores their growing ranks in public schools and early childhood programs. We won’t make a dent in reducing homelessness until we acknowledge how children and youth experience it, and reform federal, state, and local policies to meet their needs.” -Barbara Duffield, ED, SchoolHouse Connection

“HUD’s homelessness data is not accurate in determining the number of young people who experience homelessness annually and is inherently biased against youth who experience more hidden forms of homelessness. The federal government should not put out these numbers to characterize trends in overall homelessness when other research and federal agency data shows a much larger homeless population. The youth and family homelessness providers that we partner with are discouraged by government assertions that don’t show the true need when they see increasing numbers of young people in need of services and housing options.” -Darla Bardine, ED, National Network for Youth  


Family Promise is comprised more than 200 Affiliates in 43 states, with more in development. Family Promise programs involve more than 200,000 volunteers to address a national crisis at a local level.  Affiliates provide homelessness prevention assistance to at-risk families, shelter and meals when families lose their homes, and comprehensive case management and stabilization initiatives for families once they have been rehoused. Family Promise serves more than 90,000 family members annually and has served more than 850,000 people nationwide since their inception 30 years ago.  For more information, visit

The First Focus Campaign for Children is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization affiliated with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. The Campaign for Children advocates directly for legislative change in Congress to ensure children and families are a priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit

SchoolHouse Connection is a national non-profit organization working to overcome homelessness through education. SchoolHouse Connection engages in strategic advocacy and provides practical assistance in partnership with early care and education professionals (including school district homeless liaisons and state homeless education coordinators), young people, service providers, advocates, and local communities. For more information, visit

The National Network for Youth (NN4Y) has been a public education and policy advocacy organization dedicated to the prevention and eradication of youth homelessness in America for over 40 years. As the largest and most diverse network of its kind, NN4Y mobilizes over 300 members and affiliates — organizations that work on the front lines every day to provide prevention services and respond to runaways and youth experiencing homelessness and human trafficking.  For more information, visit

Statements from Local Family Service Providers on 2018 HUD Point-in-Time (PIT) Count

“Those of us who are committed to care for children must be concerned about the misleading nature of HUD’s PIT count process.  Because the count process considers only shelters and visible street homelessness, the count of children and families is mostly reflective of system capacity, not true community need.  When we undercount, we underplan and underserve – which increases trauma and perpetuates poverty and instability of the families.” -Carol Klocek, CEO, Center for Transforming Lives, Ft. Worth, TX, 817-484-1540,

 “Philadelphia’s PIT numbers under-report thousands of youth and families who experience homelessness. The School District identified 7,112 children and youth who experienced homelessness in the 2017-2018 School Year, compared to the 1,271 children under 18 years of age identified by the PIT count in FY 2018. As a result, Philadelphia devotes very few resources to addressing youth homelessness. In addition, the City “diverts” or “prevents” families away from accessing emergency housing, but does not consider that number in its PIT calculations. These experiences undermine Philadelphia’s ability to adequately address family and youth homelessness.” -Joe Willard, Vice President for Policy, People’s Emergency Center, Philadelphia, PA, 215.840.5104,

“HUD’s definition of homelessness are derived from a scarcity framework—one that misconstrues the severity of the issue in the name of limited resources. As a result, these numbers create a gross distortion that ignores the reality of homelessness and housing instability for millions of people across the country, especially young people. Ending youth homelessness hinges upon capturing its prevalence accurately and investing in its solutions proportionately. That starts with passing the Homeless Children and Youth Act (H.R. 2001).”-Melinda Giovengo, CEO, YouthCare, Seattle, WA, 206.204.1407,

“Santa Barbara County’s most recent Point in Time count (2019) showed a 30 percent decreased in the number of sheltered homeless and a 26 percent increase in the number of unsheltered homeless, in part because a primary shelter provider for individuals has cut beds and will only accept people from the coordinated entry system, which has proven to be a significant barrier to service access. Even though our agency has a waiting list of families that are doubled up without lease protections, our Continuum of Care (CoC) refused to use this data because it does not meet HUD’s definition of homelessness. Once again, our CoC is painting an inaccurate picture of homelessness and making the problem worse while it scrambles to satisfy HUD requirements.”-Kathleen Baushke, Executive Director, Transition House, Santa Barbara, CA, 805-966-9668,

“Not counting youth who are unstably and inappropriately housed as homeless drastically undercounts the number of youth who are, in reality, homeless.  Young people who are couch surfing are extremely vulnerable to all sorts of trauma, including human trafficking.  In our programs funded through Fairfax County and the US Department of Health and Human Services, we can serve these youth, and those programs are full with waiting lists.  Our average wait list each and every month is approximately 30 young people who want a safe home and the help they need to move forward in life.  If we don’t’ provide that help, we are fueling the next generation of chronically homeless adults.” – Judith Dittman, CEO, Second Story, Fairfax, VA, 703.506.9191, ext. 100,

“In 2017 and 2018 we served over 200 families, which represents some of highest numbers in our organization’s thirty-three-year history. In 2019, we’ve had almost 700 families call for services, with 113 families currently on our waitlist. Our shelter capacity is limited to 23 rooms and there simply is not enough housing to resolve the homelessness. These children and families remain in the shadows, just outside the reach of supportive services. The real difficulty is, we will serve over 200 families this year, yet 800 plus families will call for services. How many of those 800 families will end up in any system-wide count? The PIT is problematic at best, but especially problematic for families and youth who are doubled up and couch surfing. Those populations will never be fairly represented in the PIT count.”-Jaymes Sime, Executive Director, MICAH House, Council Bluffs, IA, 712.323.4416,

“We get as many as 175 calls in a month from homeless women seeking shelter.  Over half are women with children. Sadly our family program is small, and in Baltimore many of the available shelter programs to families have shut their doors in past years.  I worry that these women and their children are forced to stay in unsafe conditions and with unsafe people due to the lack of resources in our community. I am sure most of them are living among the hidden homeless and not being ‘counted’ in our local PIT count.”  -Katie Allston, Executive Director, Marian House, 410-467-4121 x229,