Homeless Numbers Shrinking? No Consolation For The Unfortunately Unhoused

A young man sleeps on a couch, half covered in pillows and blankets.
Couch Surfing photo by ephidryn is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Of course he's not homeless. You can see he's in a home. He's just 'couch surfing'.

A recent article in Huffpost draws attention to a common yet frightening administrative technique for declaring a ‘social success’ when exactly the opposite is happening. Or, just as commonly, when nothing new is happening at all.

In this case, homelessness can be identified as ‘declining’ when in fact, it is increasing in a COVID-19 world where penniless renters have been threatened with, and are now experiencing, evictions.

The technique in play? Create a subset of a social phenomenon such as ‘homelessness’ then casually remove that subset from its previous connections.

For example, let us apply a different label to someone if they have become homeless through the unique circumstances of coronavirus-induced, and hopefully temporary, poverty. We will focus on the process of becoming homeless, rather than the end result.

Let us identify this unique subset of homelessness as ‘unhoused.’

Now rationalize, using some mental gymnastics, that an ‘unhoused’ person is not homeless.

Voila! Your homelessness statistics at worst stay steady, and may indeed decrease, even though thousands more adults and children may be sleeping in alleyways, or forced to ‘couch-surf’ with friends or relatives.1

Read more in Huffpost: My Daughter And I Just Became ‘Unhoused’ During The COVID-19 Crisis


  1. In reports of the numbers of homeless people, it is always important to check the fine print. Just as the label “unhoused” can reduce the number of people who are homeless, so too can similar labels for people who have fled domestic violence, or the people with no fixed address who are in detox, or those in recovery programs, jails and hospitals.