Homelessness in Rochester has become a very visible issue, for a very specific segment of the homeless population. But what about the homeless population that isn’t as visible? Rochester has recently topped yet another list with regards to our disturbingly high poverty rates. Specifically cited in this report is the tragedy that “Rochester is now the only city of its size where slightly more than half of children live in poverty.” For a city located in one of the most generous states in the country, this reality is shocking, and it begs us to begin looking at alternative ways to address the issue. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is a glaring oversight in a way we document homeless statistics.
Coming up at the end of this month, Monroe County will conduct its federally mandated Point in Time (PIT) count, and you will likely hear about the results. This is a tool HUD uses to track the number of homeless individuals based on a one-day count every year. Shelter providers, street outreach workers, and other agencies that provide homeless services will count how many people, sheltered and unsheltered, are homeless in Monroe County on January 28th. Of course, multiple factors contribute to the accuracy of this count, but there is one missing piece that should be a cause for concern for all of us: The Rochester City School District Homeless Education Program’s 1500+ children. That number is based on right now and is expected to climb. Last year, the count reached 2200+ by the end of the school year. The argument behind this? That children who are “doubled up” do not, for the sake of the PIT count, qualify as homeless. The problem with that argument? Under the McKinney-Vento Act, they most certainly qualify as homeless and the physical, social, emotional, and academic impacts of homelessness are the same on these children as they are on children living in shelters. In fact, many families in this environment are feeling the impacts even more. Under McKinney-Vento, homelessness is defined as an individual, family, or child who “lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”