Every year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development works with local groups around the country to get an estimate of people dealing with homelessness.
The annual "point in time" count is an important indicator of how on-the-ground services are working to help homeless people. Volunteers go out during a 10-day window at the end of January to get a visual count of folks not staying in shelters.
“Well the good thing is there was a decrease," says HUD spokesperson Leland Jones. "The bad thing is that there are still folks and families who are homeless.”
In Idaho, HUD reports a decrease of 9.3 percent in 2017.
But according to Maria Foscarinis from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, there are many factors that contribute to inaccurate estimates. Specifically, she says the Idaho count last January was done during an especially cold and snowy stretch of time. Foscarinis says that made it harder for local groups to mobilize enough volunteers to get a statewide headcount.
“So if this year it was very hard to count unsheltered population," says Foscarinis, "which apparently it was because of the weather conditions, then that would have missed an awful lot of people.”
Jones acknowledges that weather can be a factor in the accuracy of the report, but that showing significant change over time is the goal.
“That’s why we call it an estimate," he says, "that’s why we refer to it as a snapshot, because it’s not intended to be a declaration of ‘this is the number and no other number could possibly be valid for the year 2017.’”
This year’s decrease follows 2016, which showed an increase in Idaho’s homeless population.
Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill
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