California was unable to accurately count its number of homeless children for 2010, according to a recent study performed by the National Center on Family Homelessness.
The study revealed that roughly 1.6 million children in the U.S. are homeless. However, because California released an unusually low number, the total could be much greater.
More than 334,000 children were reported homeless for California in 2010. But that figure is probably a miscount due to a data collection error, said Vice President of NCFH John Kellogg.
In 2009 the state identified roughly 497,000 homeless children. The number reported by California for 2010 was a decrease of nearly 33 percent – during a time when numbers increased in every other state.
“It seems very unlikely to us that the numbers have decreased as have been reported,” Kellogg said. “It may be the same, or higher.”
Kellogg credits this to the change in data collection from the California Department of Education. He said the state shifted its methods of data collection between 2009 and 2010.
“It’s impossible to know. Since the data collection did not go that well, we cannot say that the 2010 number is accurate,” he said. “We do believe it’s an undercount.”
The California Department of Education admitted there were issues with the new collection method.
“Many local educational agencies and homeless liaisons are still learning about the new system and the collection/input of their homeless students,” Leanne Wheeler, Consultant and State Homeless Coordinator for the California Department of Education, told NCFH. She also stated California is working to better identify these students.
A California Department of Education employee who did not want to be named said because of a system change of this magnitude, data collection for 2010 differed greatly than earlier methods. The program formerly had multiple counts of the state’s homeless – but the decision changed in 2010 to request data only once.
Though the actual count is more difficult to find, she said state funding to homeless programs was not affected.
“We’re not losing money as result,” she said.
California accounts for roughly 25 percent of the homeless children in the U.S., which could be because the state is the most populated. Kellogg said the study adjusts its ranking for state size for the state composite rank.
“No state gets penalized for its size of population,” he said.
California scored 46 – within the bottom five states for homelessness.