Institute of Mathematical Statistics Collections

Counting the homeless in Los Angeles County

Richard Berk, Brian Kriegler, and Donald Ylvisaker

Full-text: Open access


Over the past two decades, a variety of methods have been used to count the homeless in large metropolitan areas. In this paper, we report on an effort to count the homeless in Los Angeles County, one that employed the sampling of census tracts. A number of complications are discussed, including the need to impute homeless counts to areas of the County not sampled. We conclude that, despite their imperfections, estimated counts provided useful and credible information to the stakeholders involved.

Chapter information

Deborah Nolan and Terry Speed, eds., Probability and Statistics: Essays in Honor of David A. Freedman (Beachwood, Ohio, USA: Institute of Mathematical Statistics, 2008), 127-141

First available in Project Euclid: 7 April 2008

Permanent link to this document

Digital Object Identifier

Mathematical Reviews number (MathSciNet)

Zentralblatt MATH identifier

Primary: 62P25: Applications to social sciences

homelessness random forests small area estimation

Copyright © 2008, Institute of Mathematical Statistics


Berk, Richard; Kriegler, Brian; Ylvisaker, Donald. Counting the homeless in Los Angeles County. Probability and Statistics: Essays in Honor of David A. Freedman, 127--141, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, Beachwood, Ohio, USA, 2008. doi:10.1214/193940307000000428.

Export citation


  • [1] Breiman, L. (2001). Random forests. Machine Learning 45 5–32.
  • [2] Burt, M. (1989) America’s Homeless: Numbers, Characteristics, and Programs that Serve Them. Urban Institute, Washington, D.C.
  • [3] Cowen, D. D. (1991). Estimating census and survey undercounts through multiple service contacts. Housing Policy Debates 2 869–882.
  • [4] Chelimsky, E. (1991). Politics, policy making, data, and the homeless. Housing Policy Debates 2 683–697.
  • [5] Cordray, D. S. and Pion, G. M. (1991). What’s behind the numbers? Definitional issues in counting the homeless. Housing Policy Debates 2 587–616.
  • [6] Hudson, C. G. (1997). Estimating homeless populations through structural equation modeling. J. Sociology and Social Welfare 25 136–154.
  • [7] Kondratas, A. (1991). Estimate and public policy: The politics of numbers. Housing Policy Debates 2 631–647.
  • [8] Laska, E. M. and Meisner, M. (1993). A plant-capture method for estimating the size of a population from a single sample. Biometrics 49 209–220.
  • [9] Martin, E., Laska, E., Hopper, K., Meisner, M. and Wanderling, J. (1997). Issues in the use of a plant-capture method for estimating the size of the street dwelling population. J. Official Statistics 13 59–73.
  • [10] Rossi, P. H., Wright, J. D., Fisher, G. A. and Willis, G. (1987). The urban homeless: Estimating composition and size. Science 235 1336–1341.
  • [11] Rossi, P. H. (1989). Down and Out in America: the Origins of Homelessness. Univ. Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
  • [12] Schindler, E., Griffin, R. and Navarro, A. (2001). Sampling and Estimation for the Homeless Population. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Washington, D.C.
  • [13] Taeuber, C. M. and Siegel, P. (1991). Counting the Nation’s homeless population in the 1990 Census. In Enumerating Homeless Persons: Methods and Data Needs (C. M. Tauber, ed.). U.S. Bureau of the Census, Washington, D.C.
  • [14] Wright, J. D. and Devine, J. A. (1992). Counting the homeless: The Census bureau’s ‘S-Night’ in five U.S. Cities. Evaluation Review 16 355–364.