Each year, during the final Wednesday of January, Charlotte-Mecklenburg conducts an annual Point-in-Time Count. This action is intended to capture the number of people experiencing “literal homelessness” in the community. “Literal homelessness” is defined as residing overnight in an emergency shelter; safe haven; transitional housing facility; or in an unsheltered location unfit for human habitation.
The Point-in-Time (or PIT) Count and its complementary activities, such as the Housing Inventory Count (or HIC) are mandated by the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These are required annually of communities (like Charlotte-Mecklenburg) who receive federal funding to prevent and end homelessness. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg PIT & HIC numbers are submitted each year to HUD. This data is combined with the results from other communities across the United States and then reported in the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR). The AHAR is submitted to the U.S. Congress to inform funding and policies to prevent and end homelessness. Communities can also use their PIT & HIC data to inform local funding and policy priorities.
In response to COVID-19, communities have had to make adjustments in the conduct of the Point-in-Time Count. To help communities in their planning efforts, HUD has provided guidance to, and options for, communities to complete PIT counts safely and accurately.
This blog post will provide an overview of the PIT and HIC, including updates for the 2022 PIT and HIC; ways that individuals can meaningfully support the work, even during a health crisis; and how the PIT and HIC can be used to support efforts to address housing instability and homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
ABOUT THE POINT-IN-TIME COUNT
There are three core components of the annual PIT Count activities: 1) sheltered homelessness census; 2) unsheltered homelessness census; and 3) Housing Inventory Count (HIC). The sheltered homelessness census includes the number and demographic characteristics of individuals residing in what HUD defines as an emergency shelter, safe haven, or transitional housing facility. The unsheltered homelessness census refers to the number and demographic characteristics of individuals residing overnight in any location considered unfit for human habitation (such as sleeping outside, whether on a street or in an encampment).
Whereas the PIT Count provides a census of the number of people experiencing homelessness on one night, the HIC provides a snapshot of the capacity of the system to both temporarily and permanently house people experiencing homelessness on that same night. The HIC includes the number of beds and/or units available in emergency shelter and transitional housing (considered temporary housing by HUD); and the number of beds and/or units available in rapid re-housing, other permanent housing, and permanent supportive housing projects (which are considered permanent housing by HUD).
WHAT THE PIT & HIC CAN TELL US, AND WHAT THEY CANNOT
It is critical that communities know the limitations of the PIT & HIC. This is necessary to understand what the PIT & HIC can and cannot tell us about homelessness in the community. There are two main limitations. The first is related to the period in which the counting is done; the second is tied to the tight parameters on who is counted.
First of all, the fact that the PIT is a snapshot of a single night means there will always be an undercount of the full population experiencing homelessness. A more accurate picture is presented through a regularly updated, year-round tally, like the One Number. This is true for the HIC, as well: capacity and utilization are likewise limited to the information captured on one night.
In addition, the definitions employed for the PIT & HIC do not include all of the housing and homelessness service providers in the local housing and homelessness ecosystem. The definition for these activities, which is set by HUD, narrows the scope of homelessness to only those spending the night in a facility that meets the HUD criteria for emergency shelter, transitional housing, or unsheltered homelessness. While employing a standard definition may ensure consistency when collecting data across hundreds of communities, it ignores other providers which fall outside of this definition. It also excludes a count of anyone who is experiencing homelessness in “doubled-up situations” or those who are paying week to week to stay in hotels or motels. Because these situations are recognized in other HUD definitions and used by other federal agencies and departments, such as what is considered homeless under McKinney-Vento by the U.S Education Department, there is a fundamental mismatch, as well.
Despite these limitations, the PIT & HIC can be useful. The event, itself, enables communities to raise awareness about homelessness and the need for more permanent, affordable housing. Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s PIT Count effort, known locally as “Everybody Counts Charlotte,” highlights the housing challenges and solutions, before and after the event; it also is an opportunity to collect donations for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness; and it serves as a platform from which to promote permanent housing solutions. After all, housing remains the primary solution to homelessness.
To access last year’s PIT & HIC data, click this link.
2022 POINT-IN-TIME COUNT UPDATE
The date for the 2022 PIT and HIC has been set by HUD for Wednesday, January 26, 2022. The 2022 data will include anyone experiencing homelessness, and the capacity to temporarily and permanently house this population, as HUD defines it on the night of January 26, 2022. In response to safety concerns in 2021, HUD allowed communities to conduct modified unsheltered counts and, in some cases, forego the unsheltered count altogether. The unsheltered homelessness census involves engagement with individuals who are not already receiving services, and therefore, typically requires significant in-person contact. However, HUD has stated that exceptions will not be granted in this year.
For the 2022 PIT Count, Charlotte-Mecklenburg will complete the unsheltered count, as required by HUD, by relying primarily on Street Outreach and PATH staff already engaged with the individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness. In alignment with HUD recommendations, Charlotte-Mecklenburg will complete the unsheltered count over multiple days, “leveraging the work [Street Outreach and PATH staff] are already doing with unsheltered populations to understand where people were sleeping on the night of the count.” Additionally, and also per HUD recommendations, Charlotte-Mecklenburg will maximize remote trainings, including for use of the Outreach Grid App, which is used to complete some of the Point-in-Time Count surveys.
Like last year, HUD is requiring that CoCs conduct the other two components (sheltered homelessness census and HIC) as per usual, with no modifications. This is because the relevant data for these activities should already be in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) as a part of regular data workflows completed by staff when an individual enters an emergency shelter or transitional housing facility. For the purposes of the HIC, providing and updating organizational capacity in HMIS involves communication and coordination among providers and HMIS staff; there is no in-person client contact required separate and apart from what already takes place as part of intake and case management activities.
Finally, we are excited to share that the 2022 Point-in-Time Count will spotlight the issue of youth homelessness. Plans for the 2022 Youth-PIT Count are currently underway by the Youth Advisory Board, which is supported by The Relatives and comprised of youth with lived experience of homelessness. We will share more details about the 2022 Youth-PIT Count, including how to get involved, in January.
Although the 2022 PIT Count will not utilize volunteers to conduct surveys, there are multiple ways individuals and groups can still meaningfully support the homeless service organizations who will shoulder most of the work. In response to COVID-19, these organizations have already had to pivot multiple times, adjusting operations and, in some cases, even physical structures to ensure that all individuals have a safe place to spend the night.
Individuals and groups can always support the PIT Count by raising awareness of both the challenges of, and solutions related to, housing instability and homelessness. Nationally, only 1 in 4 individuals in the United States who are eligible to receive federal housing assistance receive it. The number of low-cost rental units (below $800 per month) in Charlotte-Mecklenburg has dropped from 45% of all rental units in 2011 to only 22% of all rental units in 2019. While housing instability and homelessness were increasing pre-pandemic, COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem and worsened pre-existing disparities.
The PIT Count provides an important opportunity for the community to elevate the issues facing individuals and families at risk of and/or experiencing homelessness; and, to advocate for additional funding to support interventions across the housing continuum, especially upstream. To learn more about how you can raise awareness, including toolkits for families and groups and fact sheets, click here.
Local planning efforts will continue to explore opportunities to enhance the work of the Point-in-time Count by leveraging the mandated activities. Going above and beyond the minimum requirements means that Charlotte-Mecklenburg can use the data collection effort to both inform Washington, D.C. and the local decision-makers who are responsible for allocating funding and creating policy.
Beyond being a requirement for federal funding, the Point-in-Time Count is a welcome reminder of our shared humanity and hope for real, lasting change. This reminder is especially necessary in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the work of the Point-in-Time Count, communities can come to see homelessness in a different way: as an individual’s face; a person’s name; someone’s story.
Translating issues like (like housing instability and homelessness) that can appear intractable into real people enables each of us to connect the problem to a person; feel a (new) sense of urgency to resolve the problem; and empowers us all to take whatever steps necessary to fix it. Enough small steps constitute a journey; individual actions when taken together will drive systemic change. Watch this space for more opportunities to engage with this important work.
All information on the Point-in-Time Count can be found at www.everybodycountsclt.org.
Courtney LaCaria coordinates posts on the Building Bridges Blog. Courtney is the Housing & Homelessness Research Coordinator for Mecklenburg County Community Support Services. Courtney’s job is to connect data on housing instability, homelessness and affordable housing with stakeholders in the community so that they can use it to drive policy-making, funding allocation and programmatic change.