As with all Continuums of Care (CoC) across the country, Charlotte-Mecklenburg recently submitted our 2019 Point-in-Time Count and Housing Inventory Count data to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). HUD reviews all CoC submissions and, once the data is finalized, reports it to the U.S. Congress through publication of the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report (AHAR).
Charlotte-Mecklenburg combines the HUD-mandated Point-in-Time Count data with other housing and homelessness information in a locally-generated annual report. The State of Housing Instability and Homelessness, released in the summer, shares the metrics which have been identified by stakeholders in Charlotte-Mecklenburg as most relevant to the work to end and prevent homelessness.
This blog post will cover some of the key numbers that are used to describe homelessness, what the numbers mean, and why they matter. In addition, this post will introduce a new number that will be included in this year’s report.
POINT-IN-TIME COUNT & HOUSING INVENTORY COUNT
The Point-in-Time Count (PIT) provides a one-night snapshot of the number and characteristics of people experiencing homelessness in emergency shelter, transitional housing, and in unsheltered locations. The Housing Inventory Count (HIC) provides a one-night snapshot of the number of beds and units available to temporarily and permanently house people experiencing homelessness. When jointly examined, the Point-in-Time Count and Housing Inventory Count allow communities to analyze year-over-year changes, shifts in capacity and utilization, and service gaps. The PIT currently provides the only method to collect an unsheltered count. However, the PIT remains an undercount of the overall homeless population and is further limited by the universe of providers in the HIC. For example, if an emergency shelter is added to the HIC, the PIT will likely increase. If there are people experiencing homelessness in a provider not included in the HIC, those individuals are not counted as part of the PIT. It is important to consider both the merits and limitations of the PIT & HIC when using them as a gauge for progress in the community.
This category describes the number of children experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools across the school year. The definition of McKinney-Vento (MCV) homelessness is broader than the PIT, and includes living situations like families who are “doubled-up” or “couch surfing” as well as those staying week-to-week in hotels. The period of data collection spans the entire school year, whereas the PIT & HIC cover only one night. The population counted are children in the school system; MCV does not include adult family members who are homeless or homeless students who were not identified as eligible for services associated with the MCV legislation. The McKinney-Vento number can be used to look at year-over-year changes and living situations for students experiencing homelessness. It can also be combined with other counts to examine overlaps in service utilization, such as children staying in shelters.
In partnership with United Way and NC 2-1-1, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care tracks the number of people seeking housing assistance in the community through Coordinated Entry (CE). Coordinated Entry, which began in May 2014, is Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s portal to connect individuals and families who are literally homeless (or imminently at risk of homelessness) to an available shelter or housing resource. Each quarter, data is provided on the number of calls; referrals to in-person coordinated assessment; and the number of coordinated assessments completed. CE data is another method that can be used to describe the need for housing; it utilizes a definition that is broader than the PIT, and includes both adults and children within the count. However, it does not capture the number of people who are experiencing housing instability and homelessness and who do not seek assistance through Coordinated Entry.
The ways we describe homelessness and housing instability has changed over time. Historically, the Point-in-Time Count was the only number communities had to enumerate the problem. Over time, Charlotte-Mecklenburg has improved existing methods and created additional resources to better understand and share the challenges across the housing continuum. These efforts include the use of “by-name” lists to address chronic and veteran homelessness as well as the development of One Number to provide a more accurate picture of homelessness across the community.
It is important to know what each number used to describe homelessness means and how to employ the datasets separately and in combination with each other. This is critical to ensure the data we collect is used effectively and that the community accurately understands the state of homelessness and housing instability in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
Courtney Morton 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.
Mary Ann Priester is the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Administrator for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care (CoC). She provides data quality, security, and privacy oversight for the local HMIS system and technical support and training to 25+ agencies that serve individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Mary Ann also oversees data collection for the Point-in-Time Count.