Learning from data on homeless students

“Homelessness up again in King County” – the recurring headline, steady as a drumbeat, reminds us of the paradox of our region’s economic prosperity:  A flourishing job market increases competition for housing and squeezes out lower- and middle-income households.  Data informing most policy decisions about regional homelessness come almost exclusively from two sources – COUNT US IN (also known as the Point-in-Time or One-Night Count), and the Seattle/King County Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), a secure online database of information about services provided to people experiencing homelessness.

A third dataset –  HOMELESS STUDENTS DATA (an annual report prepared by the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction) – offers a wealth of information about family homelessness, but so far has not been used to guide policy for prevention or mitigation of homelessness.

Although COUNT US IN and HOMELESS STUDENT DATA are updated annually, overlap in the individuals they count is limited by differences in method and definition:

Method

  • Each January, COUNT US IN sends out teams of volunteers to provide a one-time “snapshot” of the number of people of all ages who are experiencing homelessness. This includes counts of sheltered and unsheltered individuals plus an in-person survey of a subset of these individuals. The method is inherently conservative, and its report acknowledges undercounting homeless individuals in suburban and rural communities and those in hard-to-reach subpopulations such as unsheltered families and unaccompanied youth.
  • HOMELESS STUDENTS DATA are collected throughout the school year by teachers and other school personnel and provide a count of students (preschool through grade 12) who were known to be homeless at any time during the academic year.

Definition

  • While both data sources count as homeless people living unsheltered or sheltered (in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or safe havens), COUNT US IN, following criteria specified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), excludes homeless individuals and families who are “doubled up” with friends, family, or others in homes, hotels/motels, or other arrangements.
  • In contrast, following specifications from the U.S. Department of Education and the Washington State Legislature, HOMELESS STUDENTS DATA includes “doubling up” in their definition of homelessness: about 2/3 of students without a stable home in the most recent (2016-17) count were doubled up.

Differences aside, both counts lead to the same sorry conclusion:  As the fortunes of some King County residents are tracking the region’s recovery from The Great Recession, increasing numbers of our neighbors are becoming homeless.  According to COUNT US IN 2018, 12,112 individuals were homelessness in Seattle/King County on January 26th, up by 4% from 2017 (due to changes in methodology in 2017, comparisons with pre-2017 counts are discouraged).  Similarly, HOMELESS STUDENTS DATA reported that 8,938 King County public school students experienced homelessness during the 2016-17 school year, up by 8% from the previous year and more than double the number in 2010-11. The numbers of unsheltered individuals have also gone up in the most recent counts, by 15% for COUNT US IN – from 5,485 (2017) to 6,320 (2018) – and by 39% for HOMELESS STUDENTS DATA – from 244 (2015-16 SY) to 339 (2016-17SY).

What can we learn by looking at these datasets together?  Striking similarities emerge when we look at subgroups in these datasets. (Complementing the data from HOMELESS STUDENTS DATA, the Seattle Atlas of Student Homelessness, an in-depth analysis of data from Seattle Public Schools by the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness (ICPH) offers examples of how housing instability compounds existing disparities for outcomes such as academic achievement and school suspensions.)

  • RACIAL DISPARITIES: Blacks/African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos are disproportionately represented in both homelessness counts.
  • DISABILITIES: More than half of the COUNT US IN survey respondents said they were living with at least one disabling condition, and 21% of homeless students were in Special Education (about double the rate for students who were not homeless).
  • LIMITED ENGLISH PROFICIENCY: The COUNT US IN survey found that respondents from families with children were 6 times more likely than those without children to encounter language barriers when trying to access services. HOMELESS STUDENTS DATA reported that 22% of homeless students were “English Language Learners” (compared to 11% of students overall).
  • PRIOR HOMELESSNESS: COUNT US IN 2018 reported a 1-year increase of 779 individuals (28%) experiencing chronic homelessness; more than 1 in 5 respondents to the COUNT US IN survey first experienced homelessness when they were children, and almost half had experienced homelessness before age 25. While HOMELESS STUDENTS DATA does not report on chronic homelessness, the Seattle Atlas of Student Homelessness, found that more than half of Seattle Public School students who were homeless in the 2015-16 school year had also been homeless in previous years.
  • DOUBLING UP: More than 1 in 4 respondents to the COUNT US IN survey reported that immediately before becoming homeless they were “doubled up” (living in a home owned or rented by relatives or friends). This suggests that by counting students who are doubled up, HOMELESS STUDENTS DATA identifies students at risk of ending up on the street, in a shelter, or in transitional housing. Because repeated episodes of homelessness are common (see PRIOR HOMELESSNESS above), paying attention to the doubled-up population could eventually help reduce chronic homelessness. Currently, as noted by the ICPH report on Seattle student homelessness, “doubled-up students are not eligible for many of the same housing resources as other homeless students.”

Finally, while COUNT US IN provides homeless counts for 6 broad regions of King County, HOMELESS STUDENTS DATA offers almost a decade of data for 18 school districts across the region, revealing different patterns over time in different communities.  While the rate of homelessness has leveled off in some school districts, it continues to climb steadily in others.  In Tukwila, for example, student homelessness surged from 47 students (1.6% of enrollment) in 2007-08 to 375 (12.7%) in 2016-17 – an 8-fold increase in less than 10 years.  In the same period, the number of Seattle public school students without a stable home grew from 930 (2.0% of enrollment) to 4,280 (7.9%), while a few districts (Mercer Island, Vashon Island, and Skykomish) never had a year in which more than 20 students experienced homelessness.

REDUCING THE FLOW TO CHRONIC HOMELESSNESS?

Broadening our homelessness policy perspective to include individuals and families who are doubled up could help us identify families at risk for homelessness before they have exhausted their last personal resource (the family and friends willing to take them in).  Chicago is already looking at doubled-up families by, for the first time, linking information from their official database of homeless individuals accessing services (HMIS) with data from the public schools.  By combining data sources, they are able to better understand families’ paths to homelessness and to project future needs for services.  Following a similar course in King County could enable us to come up with a more prevention-oriented approach to what has become a chronic problem in our communities.

NOTE: Communities Count has reported on student homelessness for several years, and is about to update that indicator with 2016-17 data. To coordinate with the newly released COUNT US IN report, this blog previews key findings from that update.

Troubling trends for homelessness, physical activity, food security, and drug-related deaths

Part I of our double blog on recent trends in King County focused on some of the good news from King County Hospitals for a Healthier Community’s new Community Health Needs Assessment.  Now we’ll look at some of the more challenging findings.

Part II.  ACROSS KING COUNTY OVERALL, WHAT’S FAILING TO IMPROVE OR GETTING WORSE?  While many indicators showed little or no improvement in the 3 years since the previous report, those with special relevance for healthcare providers were highlighted in the Community Health Needs Assessment.

Homelessness:  In the context of escalating housing prices, student homelessness in King County more than doubled since 2008, reaching 8,411 (2.9% of enrolled students) in the 2015-16 school year. In 2016-17, this increased further, to 9,407 (3.2% of enrollees).

  • In most school districts, more than 40% of homeless students were in elementary school or pre-kindergarten.
  • In addition to student homelessness, the 2017 Count Us In Report identified 11,643 individuals experiencing homelessness, 50% of whom had one or more disabling conditions.

Too little physical activity: Fewer than 1 in 4 King County adults and youth get the recommended amount of exercise. Insufficient physical activity is associated with obesity, which in turn is linked to diabetes and other chronic diseases (including 4 in 10 cancers diagnosed in the United States).

  • This represents no change for adults, and modest but inadequate improvement for 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, given the importance of physical activity to health.
  • The overall obesity rate for King County adults has been flat since 2009 (at more than 1 in 5 adults). Nationally, adult obesity levels rose for decades, stabilized between 2003 and 2012, then rose again slightly for women.
  • At 22%, the 2015 adult obesity rate in King County was significantly lower than the Washington state rate of 26%, and the national rate of 29% (although the 2011-2015 rate in South Region matches the national rate, at 29%).
  • For King County youth, obesity has held steady around 9% since 2004 except in South Region, where it has increased. In comparison, high school students nationally experienced a steady increase in obesity from 1999 to 2013, which appeared to level off at a higher rate -14% in 2015.

Food insecurity:  By 2016, King County participation in the Basic Food program (formerly food stamps) had not returned to pre-recession levels and was increasing for older adults, especially in South Region.

  • A similar pattern was found for visits to King County food banks.
  • Although survey data about food hardship (running out of food without money to buy more) have not been collected since 2013, use of food assistance is often associated with food insecurity.

Feeling depressed: On the mental health front, 30% of youth reported that, every day for 2 or more consecutive weeks, they felt so sad or hopeless that they stopped doing some of their usual activities.

  • This indicator of depressive feelings has gotten worse in King County since 2004, driven by increases among youth in South Region.
  • Among adults, reports of frequent mental distress (poor mental health in at least 14 of the past 30 days) have increased among Hispanics since 2005, but remained stable among other race/ethnicity groups.
  • While the percentage of heterosexual adults reporting serious psychological distress has been flat since 2009, feeling “nervous, hopeless, restless, depressed, worthless, or that everything was an effort” within the past 30 days has increased significantly among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults.

Drug-related deaths, especially those related to heroin and methamphetamine, increased dramatically between 2010 and 2016.  New data released last week revealed a 10% increase (from 348 to 379) in King County drug-related deaths in 2017.

Live from King County, it’s interactive data!

For the first time, extensive interactive data on health and well-being in King County communities is available on Public Health’s Community Health Indicators website.  This rollout of new data coincides with the release of the 2018/2019 Community Health Needs Assessment for King County Hospitals for a Healthier Community.

Check out some of the new visualizations by clicking on the hyperlinked indicators in the bulleted text below. Once a visualization opens, you can click on the tabs above the title banner (see image above) to explore additional features.

  • Where in King County do more than 40% of households have guns? The cities/neighborhoods tab of the “firearms stored in home” maps the data to 48 sub-county geographies.
  • What proportion of King County residents have “unmet health care needs due to cost”? The summary tab displays a map that shows the range of values at the bottom, describes the data source, and reports the most recent 1-year and 5-year King County averages.
  • What’s the best predictor of a woman getting “early and adequate prenatal care” during pregnancy? In this demographics tab, bar charts compare results by mother’s age, education, race/ethnicity, and location.
  • Since legalization in 2012, how has marijuana use changed among King County adults and teens? Trend tabs show changes over time in King County, for King County regions, by race/ethnicity, and by sexual orientation (for adults).
  • How can you map “tuberculosis incidence” for people who don’t have an address? The Notes and sources tab answers this question and provides additional information and resources about the indicator.

Helpful hints: For legends (including options to select categories/groups and show/hide confidence intervals) see right margin of charts.  Hover over a colored bar, line, or map area to bring up a floating box with detailed information about the data.  Click on a bar, line, or map area to highlight that area; click anywhere else inside the chart to return to your previous view. For illustrated instructions, see this blog from Best Starts for Kids.

If you have questions or comments, please contact data.request@kingcounty.gov.

 

 

 

 

Updates showcase new “detailed comparisons” feature

Communities Count has posted 10 new data updates – with interpretation – of indicators about EDUCATION and FAMILY AND COMMUNITY SUPPORT.  Most of these indicators are also posted on Best Starts for Kids Indicators.  Communities Count interprets data with an equity lens and, when possible, in a policy-informed local context.

Although many of these indicators are familiar to Communities Count audiences, using Tableau for data visualization enables us to present more detailed analyses. To introduce you to this feature – and perhaps entice you to explore it more on your own—we preview a few of these detailed comparisons by race and place:

PLACE MATTERS when looking at differences by race-ethnicity. 

  • Kindergarten readiness: Overall, white, multiple-race, and Asian kindergarteners were most likely to be ready in all 6 skill areas.  This pattern was clear in Seattle School District, where 40% of Black children and 70% of white children were “kindergarten-ready.” In other districts, however, Black and white children showed no differences in kindergarten readiness.
    • Tukwila: 52% of both Black and white children were kindergarten-ready.
    • Auburn: 23% for both Black and white children were kindergarten-ready.
  • 3rd grade reading: Overall, only 7% of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students met 3rd grade reading standards, but in Auburn School District 41% met standards, almost a 6-fold difference.
  • 4th grade math: Overall, only 20% of American Indian/Alaska Native 4th graders met state math standards.  In Auburn School District, however, 55% met state standards
  • Adolescents with adult support:
    • Across all 4 King County regions, white adolescents reported rates of adult support higher than the county average.
    • For all other race/ethnicity groups, living in South Region was associated with adult support levels below the King County average.
    • And for American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, and Black adolescents, living in Seattle was also associated with below-average adult support; for adolescents in these 3 groups living in East and North regions, however, rates of adults support did not differ from the county average.

 

Here are links to the 10 new updates, with samples of 2 of 3 findings for each:

  • Child care affordability
    • 76% of preschool-aged children (6 months to 5 years old) in King County were in regularly scheduled non-parental childcare. Among the parents/guardians of those children, 69% said their childcare was affordable.
    • 41% of children in kindergarten through 5th grade were in regularly scheduled before- and/or after-school care; among their parents/guardians, 76% said their childcare was affordable.
  • Daily Reading, Singing & Telling Stories to Young Children
    • Overall, 73% of parents/guardians of children age 6 months to 5 years reported reading, singing, or telling stories to their children every day.
    • Daily reading, singing, or telling stories occurred in 45% of households where Spanish was the language most often spoken at home, significantly below the county average.
    • There were no differences by income, education, or King County region.
  • Emotional Support for Parenting
    • 75% of parents and caregivers reported that, during the past 12 months, they had someone to turn to for day-to-day emotional support with parenting or raising children.
    • At 94%, parents of American Indian/Alaska Native children were most likely to report having someone to turn to for day-to-day emotional support for parenting.
    • Parents and caregivers were most likely to have support with parenting if English was the language most commonly spoken at home.
  • Adolescents with Adult Support  [NEW INDICATOR]
    • 75% of King County 8th, 10th, and 12th graders reported having a supportive adult in their neighborhood or community who they “could talk to about something important.”
    • Since 2004, disparities by both race and place – have increased (see trends). Averaging data from 2014 and 2016,
      • 83% of white students could turn to a supportive adult in their neighborhood or community compared to 63% of Latino students.
      • South Region students (69%) were least likely to have an adult they could talk to, compared to 81% of students in East Region.
    • Mother’s education was a strong predictor of whether students had adult support, with more education predicting a greater chance of having support.
  • Youth in School or working  [NEW INDICATOR]
    • Of youth ages 16 to 24 in King County, 90% were connected to their communities either through employment or enrollment in school.
    • At 93%, Seattle had the highest rate of youth engagement.
    • Asian youth had the highest rate (93%) of being in school or employed.
  • Kindergarten Readiness
    • Fewer than half (47%) of King County students entering state-funded, full-day kindergarten had the skills expected for school readiness.
    • Even “next-door neighbors” varied considerably in the proportion of kindergarteners with the skills expected of 5-year-olds, from 21% in Auburn to 58% in neighboring Enumclaw.
    • Children who were white, 2 or more races, or Asian were most likely to display readiness in 6 specific skill areas.
  • 3rd Grade reading
    • 62% of King County 3rd graders met state reading standards.
    • Girls were more likely than boys to meet reading standards.
    • At 83%, 3rd graders in Mercer Island were most likely to meet reading standards, compared to only 36% of students in Highline District.
  • 4th Grade Math
    • 64% of King County 4th graders met state math standards.
    • 4thgraders who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals are considered low-income, and were less likely to meet math standards than those who were not considered low-income (40% vs. 75%).
    • Only 20% of 4th grade students in foster care met math standards.
  • Chronic Absenteeism  [NEW INDICATOR]
    • In the 2014-2015 school year, 14% of King County students were chronically absent.
    • Students who qualified for free or reduced-price school meals were twice as likely to be chronically absent as those who were not low-income (21% vs. 9%, respectively).
    • Highline and Federal Way School Districts reported the highest rate chronic absenteeism (20%); the lowest rate was in Issaquah School District (6%).
  • Child Abuse & Neglect
    • Investigations and assessments by Child Protective Services declined from a high of 9,756 King County households in 2007 to 8,238 in 2016.
    • Similarly, the rate of children in foster care declined from 5.72 per 1,000 in 2000 to 3.44 per 1,000 in 2017.
    • Despite these declines, the likelihood of being placed in out-of-home care in 2017 was disproportionately high for children who were American Indian / Alaska Native, Black / African American, or Native Hawaiian / Pacific Islander.

Communities Count is pleased to have new data sources for (i) Child Care; (ii) Reading, Singing & Telling Stories to Children; (iii) Emotional Support for Parenting; (iv) Kindergarten Readiness; and (v) Child Abuse & Neglect.  Previous data came from:

  • The Communities Count Survey (indicators I, ii, and iii); questions about these topics are now included in the Best Starts for Kids Survey, which received responses from a representative sample of almost 6,000 parents and guardians of children from 6 months old through 5th grade! Best Starts for Kids will repeat this survey within the coming year and then again 2 years later.
  • The Early Development Instrument (EDI) (indicator iv), which was replaced by the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS).
  • The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services’ famlink database (indicator v), which Partners for Our Children, a collaboration between the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, University of Washington School of Social Work, and private sector funding.

Listening to women

On January 21, 2017, an estimated 4.2 million people in the United States participated in the Women’s March, according to the Washington Post. Here in King County, about 134,000 marchers packed a 3.6-mile route from Judkins Park to Seattle Center. The signs they carried echoed a broad set of “Unity Principles” put forth by organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. – to end violence and support reproductive rights, LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and allies) rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, and environmental justice.

While excluding no one, the agenda was grounded in women’s rights.  From the Unity Principles’ “Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights” to signs marching down streets across America, the message was clear: it was time to LISTEN TO WOMEN.

Unlikely as it seemed last January, women’s voices are being heard at the highest levels of the entertainment and media industries, are echoing through the halls of government, and are even altering the curricula of the nation’s leading business schools.

In some cases, there have already been real consequences.  Allegations of sexual misconduct led to the expulsion of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the firing of long-time NBC Today Show host Matt Lauer, and the resignations of Minnesota Senator Al Franken and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.  Popular actors and athletes have been publicly shamed.

Most of the media coverage concerned actions that may have taken place decades ago, so the risks of speaking up — public embarrassment, loss of career opportunities, and trial by disbelief and innuendo — may have passed. And not much has been heard from women (or men) in low-paying jobs that they can’t afford to leave. Imbalance of power always invites abuse.

But the power structure may also be shifting.  Crosscut reported that Washington voters elected 38 women mayors in November, including 6 in King County cities (Seattle, Auburn, Kent, Black Diamond, Duvall, and Issaquah). And, according to NW News Network, a bipartisan mix of 175 women legislators, lobbyists, and legislative staffers in Olympia have signed a letter calling for improvements in the current process for handling reports of sexual harassment and abuses of power. The letter, titled “Stand With Us,” states, “We have no safe, neutral place to report our experiences.”

This is only a beginning of what will certainly be a long journey.  But there are signs that people making accusations about sexual misconduct may be accorded a new level of respect.  Last week the New York Times reported that while crime rates of all major felony groups in New York City fell to record low levels in 2017, reports of “misdemeanor sex crimes – a catchall for various types of misconduct that includes groping” were up more than 9%, and reports of rape started climbing after widespread publication of accusations against Harvey Weinstein.  Perhaps, standing together, women feel safer speaking out.

And we may soon see a real shift in corporate culture.  According to another recent New York Times article, business schools are teaching students “how to create a workplace culture in which people feel comfortable reporting [sexual harassment].” Perhaps more importantly, they’re acknowledging that behavior in the workplace is an important business issue that transcends gender.

We won’t see changes overnight, but this news hasn’t been lost on the younger generation. Budding stars and power brokers might think twice about actions that could, today or decades in the future, destroy everything they care about. Something big may come from this year of listening to women.

Watch for Communities Count’s upcoming update on domestic violence.