Sunday, April 09, 2006

Oh, You Meant That Homeless

Recently we raised an alarm after reading of Alief’s “burgeoning homeless population” in the zoned Alief/Southwest section of the Houston Chronicle that’s distributed in our soon-to-be-hot-'n'-hip part of the metropolis. Down around the 17th or so paragraph of the story, on the jump page, the story quoted an official of the Alief school district as saying that Alief’s homeless population had risen to 4,000 from a very precise 435 since last year, an increase she attributed to Katrina evacuees who washed up in the many apartment complexes in the area (not her exact words, by the way).

No further explanation or elaboration was offered to what should have been a page-one-worthy figure---if true (worthy of page one treatment in every newspaper in the country, we mean). But we were skeptical. We didn’t think Alief had 435 persons wandering the streets without fixed addresses, much less 4-effin-thousand. We get over that way a bit, sometimes on the No. 4 bus (part of our ongoing effort to keep tabs on what the “common folk” are up to, especially when our ride’s broke down), and we would peg a reasonable estimate of Alief’s un-homed populace at about, say, 3. Maybe 7, tops.

Last week’s Alief/Southwest section brought a belated explanation: The school district official was using “homeless” as defined by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (one of our favorite bands from the late ’60s), under which Alief ISD is being reimbursed with federal funds for educating 3,000 or so hurricane evacuee kids. And what homeless means in that very narrow context is “students without permanent housing on their official records,” that is, students residing in FEMA-subsidized apartments. In homes, in other words, however temporary.

The district superintendent offered this clarification: “The connotation that they’re living on the street is not accurate.”

OK, glad were cleared that up. Alief residents can put their firearms back in the lockbox. We bet somebody caught some poo over that 4,000 figure.

(Last week’s story, by the way, contained another eye-opening figure buried down at the tail-end, one that suggested the temporary housing isn’t so temporary: A sampling by the school district of evacuee families [300 were surveyed] suggested that 80 percent of the evacuee kids will be returning to Alief schools for the 2006-07 school year in August, and half of those intend to stay for the entire school year. This survey, we hasten to add, doesn’t sound like what you might call scientific, but the numbers sound considerably less dubious than 4,000 homeless dragging the streets and scouring the dumpsters behind the area’s many fine Asian eateries.)

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