Last month, the Building Bridges blog launched a new series devoted to unpacking some of the most misunderstood housing and homelessness terms and concepts. Earlier posts in the series covered the topics of “Housing First;” Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (or NOAH); the role of supportive services in the work to end and prevent homelessness; and most recently, a series on the common myths and misperceptions about affordable housing.
These posts are inspired by the 2025 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Strategy (CMHHS), which was launched in April 2021. The 2025 CMHHS represents the first time that the public and private sectors have come together to comprehensively address the entire housing continuum, from housing instability to homelessness, in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
Advancing widescale solutions – even the ones backed by research and data – also means overcoming obstacles that have historically gotten in the way. Some obstacles take the shape of myths or misconceptions.
This week’s post focuses specifically on homelessness, including the latest numbers and common misconceptions; and ultimately, what all of this means for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
WHAT IS HOMELESSNESS?
Homelessness, by definition, is the loss or lack of housing.
Homelessness is a classification of one housing status that exists along the housing instability & homelessness continuum.
Within the ecosystem of providers, funding sources, or oversight bodies, differing definitions of homelessness exist. Each of these definitions come with different limitations. For example, the definition of homelessness set by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) for the Point-in-time Count is much narrower than the definition employed by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to determine eligibility for McKinney-Vento services for students. Further, the Point-in-Time Count is a one-night snapshot reported annually, whereas the number of students experiencing homelessness and eligible for McKinney-Vento services is a cumulative total across twelve months.
An important outcome of the work of CMHHS is alignment, to present a more comprehensive picture of the full housing continuum. This work includes identifying and closing gaps in data collection and reporting, as well as developing more inclusive definitions to encompass all aspects of homelessness and housing instability.
To that end, CMHHS uses the following comprehensive definition for homelessness:
Homelessness is a type of housing status that exists along the housing instability & homelessness continuum. Homelessness can occur when a household lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. This can include doubling up with family and/or friends; paying to stay week to week in hotels/motels; temporarily residing in a shelter and/or transitional housing facility; experiencing unsheltered homelessness; exiting an institutional setting within a set period of time after previously experiencing homelessness; and/or fleeing domestic violence. The definition of homelessness employed varies by funding source.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE HOMELESS IN CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG?
Using the comprehensive definition for homelessness above, it must be noted that there is not (yet) a single count or total that includes every individual experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Until existing data gaps are closed, we have access to three system-level approximations.
Each are described below along, with the current totals available.
The One Number can be found on the Housing Data Snapshot, a hub for the latest information related to housing and homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Generated monthly from a By-Name List within the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), the One Number captures the number of people enrolled in Emergency Shelter; Transitional Housing; Street Outreach; Permanent Housing (those enrolled but not yet housed); and Coordinated Entry projects in HMIS. The One Number includes both sheltered homelessness and a portion of the individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
In addition, the One Number can be broken down by both household composition and population type; elements include single individuals, families, unaccompanied youth, veterans, and people experiencing chronic homelessness. The One Number can also be analyzed by inflow to, and outflow from, homelessness. By comparing One Number data over time (including by household composition, population or by inflow/outflow), the community can identify trends. Once identified, these trends can then inform interventions.
|Total Individuals experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg||3,150||Monthly snapshot updated July 31, 2021|
Whereas the One Number provides a monthly snapshot of the total number of people experiencing homelessness in the community, the Point-in-Time (PIT) Count provides an annual one-night snapshot of individuals who meet the definition of literal homelessness. The PIT Count (and the complementary Housing Inventory Count, or HIC) is a mandated activity of all Continuums of Care (CoCs) as a condition of receiving federal homelessness assistance from HUD. HUD aggregates PIT & HIC data from over 395 CoCs as part of an annual report that is submitted to the U.S. Congress to inform funding decisions.
There are three core components of the annual Point-in-Time 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). 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).
In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the annual PIT Count is entitled “EverybodyCountsCLT.” While the activity is a funding requirement, and the annual count comes with significant data limitations, EverybodyCountsCLT serves as an important reminder that behind every data point is a person who counts. EverybodyCountsCLT calls attention to both the fact that we must ensure that everyone is counted, and to the reality that each individual matters.
|Total Individuals experiencing literal homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg on one night in January||1,947||One-night snapshot updated January 27, 2021|
The Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program (EHCY) was authorized under Subtitle VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Its purpose is to ensure that students who experience homelessness have equal access to educational services and resources. The definition for homelessness used by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is broader than the definition used by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), which sets the parameters for activities and funding for programs like the Continuum of Care (CoC) and Point-in-Time Count.
The definitions for homelessness used by HUD and ED both include emergency shelter, transitional housing, and sleeping in unsheltered locations. However, the definition used by ED to define student homelessness also includes living in doubled up situations with family and/or friends; paying to stay in hotels or motels; abandoned in hospitals; and/or awaiting foster care placement. Most of the population experiencing student homelessness are in doubled up living situations, which does not overlap with the population experiencing literal homelessness as HUD defines it.
In addition, student homelessness is reported as a total number for the school year. This means the total population count includes all students who were reported as homeless at some point during the school year, even if a student may have found housing before the end of the school year. Unlike the Point-in-Time Count, which is a one-night snapshot, and the One Number, which is a monthly snapshot, student homelessness is a cumulative, annual count.
|Total students identified as experiencing homelessness or housing instability during the 2020 – 2021 school year||3,011||Cumulative, annual count updated June 30, 2021|
The table below summarizes the key differences and numbers for the three available, system-wide approximations for homelessness:
|Sub-category||Description||Total||Time Period||Notes & Limitations|
|One Number||Total Individuals experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg||3,150||Monthly snapshot updated July 31, 2021||The One Number providesthe most current and accurate snapshot for the number of people experiencing homelessness. The One Number, which is generated by HMIS and updated monthly, creates a by-name list that can be used to better understand inflow into and outflow out of homelessness.|
|Point-in-Time Count||Total Individuals experiencing literal homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg on one night in January||1,947||One-night snapshot updated January 27, 2021||A required activity for federal funding, the PIT Count provides an annual snapshot of literal homelessness for one night in January. Charlotte-Mecklenburg adds optional questions(to inform local decision-making. Like the One Number, the PIT Count describes literal homelessness; however, the PIT Count is only completed once per year; captures the number of people on one night only; and is generally recognized as an undercount.|
|Student Homelessness||Total students identified as experiencing homelessness or housing instability during the 2020 – 2021 school year||3,011||Cumulative, annual count updated June 30, 2021||Also known as McKinney-Vento, this number is calculated annually at the end of an academic year. Currently, it is the only community estimate for the number of people experiencing homelessness in doubled-upsituations and/or in hotels or motels. However, it is an annualized estimate. The end of the year total may include households who were homeless in one month and found housing one month later. In addition, the McKinney-Vento number does not necessarily capture all household members experiencing homelessness.McKinney-Vento assistance is designedby the U.S. Department of Education to address the needs of children and youth experiencing homelessness and ensure educational rights and protections.|
During the last decade, Charlotte-Mecklenburg has improved data collection and reporting on housing instability and homelessness. Before the One Number was available, the best approximation for the number of people experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg was the annual Point-in-Time Count. And the Point-In-Time Count is exactly that: a limited, one-night snapshot of a point in time designated by HUD. The launch of the The One Number in 2019 represented a significant step toward a more comprehensive, timely enumeration of all the people experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
However, there are still many households who experience housing instability and/or homelessness who are not captured as part of the One Number. It is critical to identify the households “in the gap” to understand both the need for services and to construct effective solutions to address these needs.
Getting the number right is important. And we need to know and understand how each individual housing or homelessness data point defines the scope of the problem, as well as the ways different data points can be used together to identify effective solutions.
It is absolutely essential that numbers be put to use. Having the right number is key, but it is also just one part of the work. Employing the right numbers, in the right ways, will lead to the right solutions. During and after the development of the right number, we must continue to raise awareness around the need; quantify the resources necessary (and available) to meet the need; and evaluate progress in addressing the need. There must be a communitywide commitment to, and alignment around, using the numbers to drive change; otherwise, having the “right” number won’t matter, anyway.
Stay tuned for future posts covering common housing and homelessness-related misconceptions and myths. To learn more about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Strategy, please visit: www.charmeckhousingstrategy.com
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.