Mayors' Report Details Rise of Homelessness and New, Growing 'Tent Cities'; Press Ignores or Glosses Over

In a Washington Post opinion piece published on December 6, longtime expansionary entitlement program apologists Peter Edelman and Barbara Ehrenreich ripped into the 1996 welfare reform law and its alleged effect on the poor during the struggling economy of the past two years.

In the course of their rant, Edelman and Ehrenreich told readers something that the rest of the press has largely ignored since Barack Obama took office in January: Homelessness is up, as in way, way up:

According to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP), the number of homeless Americans is up by 61 percent since the recession began in December 2007.
In fact, a new report from a source normally favored by the press tells us that new "tent cities" have sprung up, and that others in existence a year ago have grown. Does anyone think these facts would remain so well-hidden if Bush 43 were still in office?

Interestingly, it seems that Edeleman and Ehrenreich appear to have serendipitously misinterpreted their information source.

An NLCHP report that appears to have been released on December 4, 2008 is where I found a stat matching the pair's claimed increase. But it was very differently phrased (bold is mine):

Reuters has reported that local and state homeless groups have seen a 61 percent rise in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007.

What the media has described as "the foreclosure crisis" actually began in late 2006 or early 2007.

Edelman and Ehrenreich erroneously presented their stat as if it's a 2007-2009 figure. So their stat doesn't contribute to proving that homelessness has increased significantly this year. Oh well, that's okay, because the U.S. Conference of Mayors just did so, even if you have to dig a bit to get to the confirming info.

Perhaps in a bid to protect their Dear Leader in Washington, the headline in the mayors' press release (PDF; "U.S. Cities See Sharp Increases in the Need for Food Assistance; Decreases in Individual Homelessness") makes it appear as if homelessness might be less of a problem than it was a year ago.

Uh, not exactly, as this detailed look at the 27 cities described in the actual report (PDF) shows:


As you can see, 15 of the 27 reporting cities showed increases. Some were slight, but more than a few were quite significant. Only five cities had clearly reported or determinable decreases. The situations in two other cities seemed to indicate an overall increase, while the situations in five others were unclear (a couple of the unclear ones seem to indicate increases, but I'm being conservative in my evaluations).

Of course, the above list does not include many of the country's largest cities, including 17 of the top 30 in population. But in short order, I was able to determine that homeless during the past year has gone up significantly in at least these four other cities based on articles I found relating to the situations in New York CityBaltimore, and (anecdotal) Houston. An interactive map produced by another advocacy organization shows that family homelessness in Indianapolis increased by 78%.

Enough already. That homelessness is up significantly in the past year should at this point be beyond reasonable dispute.

That press coverage of the phenomenon has been weak is also pretty obvious, but in case there is need for reinforcement, consider the following:

  • A search on the word "homeless" at the Associated Press's raw feed page comes back with nothing relating to the overall homelessness situation in the nation or individual cities. The AP thus appears to have totally ignored the mayors' report released last Tuesday.
  • The same search at the AP's home page comes back with the same non-results.
  • Even when noticed, the reporting seems grudging. Reuters's coverage of the mayors' report is a case in point. Though the headline is strong ("Hunger, family homelessness on rise in U.S. cities") it's less than 300 words, and contains this amazing statement: "Only 10 cities reported having so-called tent cities or other concentrations of the homeless."

"Only" 10 "tent cities"? "ONLY" 10?

Though "only" is a word the mayors' report used (more Dear Leader protection, it would appear), that doesn't excuse the wire service from missing this "little" tidbit in that same report:

Detroit, Los Angeles, Nashville, Charleston, and Providence all reported that new tent cities or other large homeless encampments have arisen over the past year. Des Moines, Phoenix, Sacramento, and Seattle all report that their existing tent cities or homeless encampments have increased in size over the past year.

Wow. Five new Obamavilles, and four others getting bigger, and it's not news. Imagine that.

Meanwhile, I publicly thank welfare nostalgics Edelman and Ehrenreich for inadvertently nudging me to look into all of this.

Cross-posted at

Economy Media Bias Debate Double Standards Housing Recession Bias by Omission Barbara Ehrenreich Peter Edelman

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