Our community is preparing for the 2020 Point-in-Time Count on January 29 – the night when we count the number of people who are sleeping on the streets and in sheltered locations. As part of these preparations, it is important that we look at all the numbers we use to enumerate the problems of homelessness and housing instability – and even more important that we understand how those numbers can be used to drive change.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care (CoC) is required, as part of the federal funding assistance it receives, to conduct a Point-in-Time Count each year. Our community is also required to report other homelessness data, including the number of children who experience homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). This number, which is referred to as McKinney-Vento (MCV), differs from the Point-in-Time Count number; however, the two are sometimes combined or even compared to each other. It is vital that we have real knowledge of the numbers we use – including similarities and differences in data sets; ways in which the data sets are generated; reasons why the data are generated; and how the data sets can be combined, contrasted, or compared to understand problems and craft solutions.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg combines the Point-in-Time Count data with other housing and homelessness information across the housing continuum. This is released in a locally-generated, annual report called the Charlotte-Mecklenburg State of Housing Instability & Homelessness.
This blog post will cover the key numbers featured in the local State of Housing Instability & Homelessness report. Descriptions are provided to help understand each number individually as well as how they can be used together to inform local decision-making. A handout with 2019 Data is also provided for you to download and use.
Housing instability is literally living in a housing situation that is considered unstable, which can occur for multiple reasons and involve a variety of living scenarios. These factors can include facing eviction; getting behind on rent and/or utilities; experiencing frequent moves; and living in substandard or overcrowded housing. While not yet homeless, the loss of housing may be imminent. It is important that communities care about addressing housing instability. It costs less to prevent a household from losing housing than to maintain that same household in an emergency shelter. It is far better for a family to stay in their home than to disrupt their lives and impose upon them costly barriers to obtaining new housing. The report, Launch Upstream: Prevention Assistance in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, describes the continuum of prevention assistance and how prevention can be used to reduce housing instability and therefore reduce the number of people who face homelessness every day.
Housing instability is often also defined by using the term “housing cost-burdened,” which means that a household is spending more than 30% of its gross income on all housing-related costs. Households who are cost-burdened are at an especially high risk of experiencing homelessness because they are just one emergency or missed paycheck away from losing their housing. In addition to housing cost-burden, housing instability can also be described by using the following: Area Median Income, Fair Market Rent, housing gap, wages, and the rate of formal evictions. The table below provides the most current information for housing instability in Charlotte-Mecklenburg:
Homelessness is broadly defined as the loss of housing. There are multiple, specific definitions for homelessness; these definitions vary by funding source or federal agency. For example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) limits the definition of homelessness used for the Point-in-Time Count to “literal homelessness.” Literal Homelessness means that a household is living in an emergency shelter or transitional housing facility; is fleeing domestic violence; and/or is living in an unsheltered location. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) defines homelessness much more broadly when calculating the MCV number; the ED definition of homelessness includes doubled up families and/or those living week to week in motels/hotels. In addition, the time frame for collecting homelessness data varies: the Point-in-Time Count captures a one-night snapshot, whereas the MCV number spans an entire academic year. The new One Number provides the most recent data on homelessness in the community; it does not, however, use the broader definition of McKinney-Vento. To provide as comprehensive and accurate a picture as possible, this table highlights five key numbers to know when discussing homelessness:
The numbers provided in the tables above and on this handout use the data we have available to illustrate the problem of homelessness and housing instability in our community. It is important to note that, while our data is good, we can always improve our collection methodologies and refine our approaches. We can expand who we count on the night of the Point-in-Time Count to include other populations who experience homelessness and housing instability. We can create infrastructure to track these numbers in existing systems, like HMIS; this in turn can inform and strengthen data like the One Number, ensuring that One Number identifies allindividuals and families experiencing homelessness and housing instability in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
Our community believes in continuous improvement; we are always working on ways to close these data gaps for the benefit of our residents and stakeholders. We seek to incorporate, whenever possible, revised steps and new processes to expand existing efforts. Such efforts will result in better information, which can then better inform how and to whom resources are allocated. This is especially important to driving systemic change.
Even as we improve how and who we count, we already know enough to state that there is simply not enough housing affordable for those who most need it. Whether the housing gap is 27,000 or 48,000 units, our community has much work ahead. Each of us has a role to play; you can participate by downloading and sharing this information with others. Learn more about the different sources and uses for data. Discuss the 2019 Housing & Homelessness report. Use the data to call for housing solutions. Make decisions for yourself or your organization based on the numbers. It takes all of us to do the counting…but by doing your part, you can truly make the numbers count.
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.