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.

Child poverty moves south from Seattle

Twenty years ago, 1 in 5 Seattle children aged 5-17 years old (>12,000) lived in poverty. Poverty among school-aged Seattle children peaked in 1997 – 13 to 16 years before all school districts in the county experienced recession-linked surges in student poverty.  By the “post-recession” year of 2016, the picture had changed dramatically, according to data prepared by the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE).

The rates and numbers of school-aged children living in poverty have continued to decline in Seattle, and have returned to pre-recession levels in many King County school districts.  But the overall number has increased – from 28,971 in 1997 to 31,259 in 2016 – with most of the increase coming from a cluster of South Region districts that are accommodating the county’s re-distribution of poverty.

On one end of the see-saw, Seattle’s share of the county’s low-income children dropped from 42% in 1997 to 21% in 2016.  On the other end, the South Region school districts of Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton, and Tukwila, which together contributed only 39% of school-aged poverty in 1997, are now responsible for educating 55% of the county’s students living in poverty.  All 6 districts have double-digit rates of student poverty, from 13% in Kent to 29% in Tukwila.  And none have returned to pre-recession levels of school-aged poverty.

Given the stratospheric rise in Seattle housing costs, it seems likely that child poverty in Seattle schools has declined (down to 10%, from a high of 19%) because poor families couldn’t afford to stay.  Families – and school districts – in Seattle and many East Region cities benefit from the region’s strong economic recovery. In future blogs, we will look school funding, health, and academic progress to see how South Region school districts are coping with an influx of children whose families aren’t doing as well economically.

See recent updates by school district to Communities Count education indicators and Best Starts for Kids indicators.

Taking a knee for justice

Football teams and their fans are conflicted over the practices of kneeling, sitting, joining arms, raising a fist, or staying in the locker room during the National Football League’s (NFL’s) pre-game national anthem ceremonies. The protests began in the wake of the videotaped police shootings of 2 young Black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.  To draw attention to these events and to issues of racism and injustice, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick declined to stand while the national anthem was being played at preseason games in 2016.  Over the past 2 football seasons, Kaepernick’s individual protest has gathered both support and condemnation.

Some wonder what the protests are accomplishing.  Back when it all started, in the summer of 2016, Garfield High School football team member Duncan King wondered the same thing. He offered some personal answers in his essay, “Kneeling for a Nation: How One Team’s Participation in a Nationwide Movement Developed into a Force for Local Civic Change.” The essay won a 2017 Stim Bullitt Civic Courage award – and a $5,000 scholarship – from the Seattle Public Library Foundation.

In his essay King discussed the aftermath of his team’s decision to kneel – media attention, Facebook likes, threats of violence (and actual violence), as well as shared introspection about why they chose to kneel: “Common themes were police violence against black males, school segregation and underfunding, and governmental and institutional racism.”  In addition to kneeling on the field, the Garfield team initiated an open discussion with the Seattle Police Department and were invited to the regional conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Local NFL players have also taken action.  Last month Seattle Seahawk Doug Baldwin joined NFL President Roger Goodell in a letter to the U.S. Congress that supported a bill to reduce minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.  One quote from the letter emphasizes the deep connections between NFL teams and their home communities:

“When the hometowns of our players or the 32 communities in which our clubs are located are hurting – whether from natural disasters or those that are man-made – so too are our teams. And like most Americans, our owners, players, coaches and clubs spring into action to help. Over the last two seasons, one particular issue that has come to the forefront for our players and our teams is the issue of justice for all…. The bottom line is, that we all want to make our communities better.”

To provide a platform for maintaining a clear focus on free speech and collective action, Seahawks player Michael Bennett joined other athletes in founding Athletes for Impact (A4I), a new organization to “build an inclusive and global network of athletes committed to equity and social change.” Bennett’s reach extends beyond an elite circle of athletes: a recent pregame ESPN video featured his volunteer work with youth at King County’s Juvenile Detention Facility.

On the field and off, in Seattle and across the nation, football players find themselves in an unfamiliar and possibly uncomfortable spotlight.  American heroes by definition, until recently all they had to do was play the game.  Now, under intensive scrutiny by the media and even the President, they’re having to take a stand.

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Essay submissions for the 2018 Stimson Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship Competition will be accepted from January 1 to March 15. More information can be found at the Seattle Public Library Foundation.

Communities Count provides data on racial disparities for almost every indicator, including income, wealth, on-time graduation, and public safety.  In 2011-2015, the homicide rate among King County Blacks was 5.2 times the county average (forthcoming on Communities Count).  And in 2016, race/ethnicity/ancestry accounted for 62% of the motivations for hate crimes in reported by Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs. Communities Count will update hate crime data for King County in early 2018.

Welcoming immigrants and refugees

In King County, 1 in 5 adults was not born in the U.S. In light of the President’s executive orders regarding federal immigration laws, many in our immigrant and refugee communities are uncertain about the extent to which local governments cooperate with federal immigration agents. Across the US, cities, counties, and states have declared themselves “sanctuary” jurisdictions. Seattle and King County prefer the term Welcoming City and Welcoming County, respectively, which, according to Seattle’s broad definition, means prioritizing “policies, actions, and practices that help immigrant and refugee communities succeed.”


Q. What’s an example of these “policies, actions, and practices”?

Although details differ, a “welcoming” designation generally signals that a government does not use jurisdictional time/resources to target residents on the basis of immigration status. In most cases, government employees (including police) will not ask residents about their immigration or citizenship status. While these “don’t ask” policies protect residents’ privacy, they also protect government employees, who cannot be compelled to disclose information they do not have. This restriction can be negated, however, by a court order, or by “reasonable suspicion” that a person has been previously deported and has committed a felony.

Q. What policies are followed at King County detention facilities?

King County limits compliance with federal immigration requests to hold prisoners beyond the time when they should legally be released. The County will only honor “detainer requests” that are accompanied by a criminal warrant issued by a federal judge or magistrate. This policy is consistent both with federal law and a 2014 King County ordinance.

Q: What is the intention of declaring status as a welcoming jurisdiction?

Backers of “welcoming” policies believe they make communities safer. Why? Because residents are more likely to report crimes, testify in court, and call for help when they need it if police are under orders not to ask about immigration status. In addition, welcoming jurisdictions want to assure people of different religions, races, and national origins that they are welcome and should continue to seek assistance at public health clinics and other government facilities.

Q. Do crime rates in these jurisdictions support the “safer communities” rationale?

Yes, according to a recent analysis of FBI crime reports. After controlling for population characteristics, sanctuary or welcoming cities averaged 35.5 fewer crimes per 10,000 population. These findings support the conclusion of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, representing the 68 largest law enforcement agencies in the country, that mixing local law enforcement with federal immigration enforcement “would result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic acts.”

Q. How can immigrants get accurate information about their rights?

This week the King County Council approved $750,000 to support immigrant and refugee communities’ needs for legal assistance, information about their rights, and (in partnership with The Seattle Foundation) capacity-building of community-based organizations. In addition, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed an ordinance setting aside $1 million to create a legal defense fund for immigrants and refugees. Access to information about these and other resources is available through:
 Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs
Welcoming Immigrant and Refugee Communities (King County)
 The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which has a wealth of information on its website, including a new advisory for non-profit and social service organizations seeking to protect their clients.
 A hyperlinked list of (mostly) King County cities with ordinances, resolutions, and proclamations that they “promote safe, welcoming, and inclusive communities.”

2016 City Health Profiles reveal little-known facts

The newly updated City Health Profiles are filled with fascinating details about King County communities.  For example, did you know that …

  • … residents of Northeast Seattle live an average of 9.9 years longer than those in South Auburn (86.2 versus 76.3 years, respectively)?
  •  … Seattle’s Queen Anne/Magnolia area ranks #1 for excessive drinking in King County (37% of adults, compared to 10% in the west section of Kent)?
  • … King County islands are magnets for seniors:  On Mercer and Vashon Islands, 1 in 5 residents is 65 or older, compared to only 1 in 14 in Sammamish?
  • … 88% of Mercer Island/Point Cities adults saw a dentist in the past year, compared to only 44% of adults in SeaTac/Tukwila?

In this year’s companion Appendix, you can find neighborhood-specific data from King County’s 7 largest cities (Auburn, Bellevue, Federal Way, Kent, Kirkland, Renton, and Seattle).

Coming soon:  An interactive version of the 2016 City Health Profiles and Appendix will be posted online.  New features for the appendix include maps and automatic rank-ordering of demographic and health information across 48 geographic regions in King County.