The work to complete the 2020 Point-in-Time Count started on Monday, January 27 and will end on Sunday, February 2. Volunteers and providers are surveying individuals and families across Mecklenburg County to determine the number who slept in either emergency shelters, transitional housing, or in unsheltered locations on the night of Wednesday, January 29, 2020.
The Point-in-Time Count is a mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) for Continuums of Care (CoCs), like the one chartered in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Data collected by HUD is then reported to the U.S. Congress annually, to inform federal resource allocations for housing and homelessness assistance. Charlotte-Mecklenburg also goes above and beyond the federal funding requirements to collect other data that can be used to make decisions locally.
This blog post provides information on how Charlotte-Mecklenburg uses the Point-in-Time Count to collect local data that can be used in our community, as well as how the event connects additional resources to individuals and families currently experiencing homelessness.
These categories below comprise the local questions on the 2020 Point-in-Time Count survey. Each year, the members of the Point-in-Time Count planning committee review previous locally-generated survey questions and adopts the final slate. When finalizing the list, the committee considers several factors, including impacts on the length of time to complete the survey; previous questions and continuity; and new or emerging issues impacting the community related to homelessness and housing instability.
Local questions for 2020 include the topics of income, residency, and barriers:
We collect information about income source(s) and amount(s) to provide a more comprehensive picture of the individuals and households experiencing homelessness. Of the households reporting any income during the 2019 Point-in-Time Count, the average monthly amount was approximately $1,000. The most a household earning $1,000 can afford, without being cost-burdened, is about $300 per month; however, a 1-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent is $934 monthly. This information helps combat the common misconception that people who are homeless lack income. It also underscores the gap between housing cost and what a household can afford in rent; illustrates a lack of access; and demonstrates concerns around the sustainability of housing for those who are cost burdened.
Residency pre-dated homelessness
We ask about whether individuals have come to Charlotte-Mecklenburg from other communities within the last 2 years. Over the past three years, the data from the Point-in-Time Count has clearly shown that the majority of individuals experiencing homelessness in our community are actually from Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
Barriers to Housing
We ask individuals to share their perceived barriers to accessing housing, which includes issues like a prior eviction or criminal record; family size; sexual orientation or gender identity; physical disability; or transportation. This information can be used to inform housing solutions.
Access to housing with subsidy or voucher
We ask if individuals currently have a housing subsidy or voucher. Data from the last two years indicates there have been approximately 50 individuals who had a housing subsidy or voucher; however, they had been either unable to find a unit or were simply waiting for the unit to be approved, and therefore homeless during the Point-in-Time Count. This data sheds light on other aspects of the housing gap: availability of and access to affordable housing units in the community; income source discrimination; and a lack of landlord support for vouchers and subsidies.
Quality of Life Convictions
2020 is the second year we have asked this question, which seeks to understand if individuals are being arrested for crimes that are typically associated with homelessness. These include violations such as public urination, trespassing, or panhandling. The information from these responses can help inform resources, especially in the uptown area, that promote dignity for individuals experiencing homelessness in the community.
We ask questions targeting unaccompanied youth, who are between the ages of 18 and 24. These include precipitating factors that have led to their homelessness and current educational enrollment. Data collected can be used to better understand the factors that are leading to youth homelessness and also inform resource allocation.
This question was new for 2020, and was added because homelessness can be a barrier to participating in many things, including democracy. We ask if individuals are registered to vote. If an individual is not, staff and volunteers have been trained to provide information on voter registration and assist with completing the form.
During the Point-in-Time Count, volunteers and staff distribute winter weather-related items like sleeping bags, tents, gloves, tarps and survival kits to people who are sleeping outside in unsheltered locations. These items are donated by individuals, businesses, and groups each year to support the effort. Last year, there were 196 individuals sleeping outside on the night of the Point-in-Time Count. For some individuals, the count may be the first time they have connected with another non-homeless person in a long time. The Point-in-Time Count survey enables interested individuals to request that a staff person from either the street outreach or PATH teams follow up with them. This connection can help them start on a path toward regaining housing.
The Point-in-Time Count can and must be more than just a required census activity for federal funding assistance. This effort offers our community the opportunity to see homelessness in a different way – as an individual’s face; a person’s name; someone’s story. It also gives Charlotte-Mecklenburg the chance to connect homeless individuals with resources to stay warm until housing is available. This year, we also have the ability to help the homeless exercise their rights to vote. Any and all of these help knit our community more tightly together, and recognize our shared humanity. The Point-in-Time Count also reinforces the fact that literally anyone can become homeless.
Most importantly, Charlotte-Mecklenburg must use the Point-in-Time Count to drive systemic change. The issues underlying homelessness and housing instability are linked, as the solutions must also be. This year’s theme, Housing Counts, serves as an important reminder: just as everybody counts, Housing Counts.
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.