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Thought Leader Poverty & Equity

Beyond the numbers

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By S. Kelley Henderson, Chief Executive Officer, Action Ministries

From and early age, we were taught to “show your work.”  Although the answer may have been correct, demonstrating how you arrived at the answer demonstrated competency and hopefully your ability to repeat the same results.  The same holds true for using statistics when tracking trends in poverty. Each year, dozens of reports hit the wires about homelessness, food insecurity, school performance, population trends, etc.  Well intended policy wonks then geek out on this data, offering a perspective on the issue of the month. 

These reports are needed, and they help guide those of us in the space who are trying to create impactful programs to address equity shortcomings facing our community. Over the next few weeks, I will be going “beyond the numbers” on a few challenges facing our region, and perhaps convince you to take action!  This week, we will unpack homelessness.

Homelessness is not a new topic on this forum, yet it is one that has a multi-faceted view into our community.  The annual Point-In-Time Count is conducted across the nation by agencies and municipalities who receive funding from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  HUD then uses this data to allocate tax funding to address the homelessness issued facing each jurisdiction. According to an archival study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness (2019), homeless counts in Georgia were 19,836 in 2010 compared to 9,499 in 2018…a decline of 52% (NAEH, State of Homelessness 2019).

Using a different source, the Georgia Department of Education, we learn that 38,474 students experienced homelessness in 2018 (McKinney Vento Report, Ed Data Express 2019). From the same report and using the same period as above, 2010 included 38,336 students. We have witnessed no improvement over the same period of time using a different benchmark for data. Going beyond these numbers, it is important to understand that each group has a different definition of homeless. For HUD, the person or family must be literally homeless (i.e. on the street, in a shelter, etc.) while the school system expands that to include persons “doubled up” with friends or families and those living in hotels/motels. Why is this important?

If we are going to create adequate solutions that are sufficiently resourced, we need to truly understand the scope of the problem. We should not become so focused on moving a single data point, that we lose sight of a larger problem waiting silently for a tipping point. Families who are at risk of being on the street, including those living in motels or on a friend’s sofa, are that silent group. They need our help, before they slip into the “system,” and Action Ministries is ready to help you help these neighbors on the edge of crisis. Over the past year Action Ministries, ended homelessness for 1,706 people (946 were children).  We are expanding our efforts to help families living in motels and without a place of their own by partnering with dozens of schools in the Greater Atlanta area to identify and connect these families to us.  

To learn how you can help, go to www.actionministries.net/housing/  

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