Pasadena’s 2019 Homeless Count says 23 families are experiencing homelessness. PUSD student advocates say 500. Why the huge difference?

A mom who went through Door of Hope’s program, Kara, recently shared with me details of the 6 months she spent living in her car with 4 kids.  It shed new light on something I’ve heard from homelessness advocates: Families are among the most under-counted communities experiencing homelessness.

Over her six months experiencing homelessness, Kara developed a number of strategies to make sure her kids spent as few nights on the streets as possible.  Sometimes she’d convince a friend or family member to let her kids sleep at their house, while she slept in the car. She would avoid streets that required parking permits at night, and she’d make sure her kids were not visible to anyone peeking through the window.  As I heard her story, I realized that she would likely have been missed by volunteers participating in the Pasadena Homeless Count.

Pasadena’s homeless count came out this week, and LA County’s will soon follow.  According to Pasadena’s count, 23 families are homeless in Pasadena, a significant decrease from last year’s report of 37 families.  This is good news!

Yet…if you ask student advocates in Pasadena Unified School District, they will tell you a different number: currently over 700 students are experiencing homelessness, or about 300 families.  This difference is huge, and one that requires some explanation.

School districts define homelessness by a definition set forth in the federal McKinney-Vento Act, as someone who lacks a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” including those who are “doubled up” – that is, staying in a friend’s or family member’s home because they lost their own housing.  The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses a more narrow definition of homelessness: persons living in places unfit for human habitation, such as the streets, or in a shelter.  HUD’s definition excludes people who are doubled up or living in motels (unless the motel is paid for through a voucher or other charity).  This latter, more narrow definition is used by the Homeless Count, and the results are troubling: by one definition, there are about 500 families experiencing homelessness in Pasadena; by another, there are just 23.

That difference is just one of the many reasons families are undercounted.  In addition to HUD’s narrow definition, many of Pasadena’s safest neighborhoods require night-time parking permits.  If homeless in your car, you might go to Altadena or a surrounding community to park at night. Like Kara, you would do everything in your power to make sure your kids slept at a friend’s or family’s house, especially on a cold night in January.  As you read the statistics in the coming weeks, keep these differences in mind, and remember there are many ‘uncounted’ parents and children who need your help.

Thanks for your support!