Mecklenburg County Community Support Services released the One Number almost one year ago as part of the annual Charlotte-Mecklenburg State of Housing Instability & Homelessness Report. Since its initial release, the One Number has been updated monthly on the Housing Data Snapshot, a hub for the latest numbers related to housing and homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
Generated from a By-Name List from the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), the One Number captures the number of people enrolled in Emergency Shelter, Transitional Housing, Street Outreach, and Coordinated Entry projects in HMIS. This includes both sheltered homelessness and a portion of individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. In addition, the One Number can be broken down by both household composition and population type. These 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 and by inflow/outflow) the community can identify trends; these trends can then inform interventions.
To mark the one-year anniversary of the One Number, we are excited to share information about what is new; what has changed; and why these changes matter for Charlotte-Mecklenburg. This includes a complete refresh of all historical One Number data; and new features that will allow a breakdown of One Number data by race and ethnicity.
HOW THE ONE NUMBER WORKS
The One Number data is updated each month. This update includes all household composition types; inflow and outflow; and the number of days it takes to move into permanent housing. When an individual is no longer actively involved in the homeless services system for more than 90 days, the individual is removed from the By-Name List. Upon a return for assistance, the individual is returned to the list.
It is important to note that there is limited Veteran’s Administration (VA) data in HMIS. Limited information on VA homeless outreach and HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) is shared via a partnership between the Housing Our Heroes team and the VA. The One Number and inflow/outflow totals must be manually adjusted to account for the integration of VA outreach data with HMIS data.
All other By-Name list data is entered directly into HMIS by trained staff in housing and homelessness service organizations across Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Changes in an individual’s housing status (inflow or outflow) may or may not be reflected in a given month’s report because information is updated in real time as it becomes available; this is dependent on both the date of data entry, as well as the dates, themselves. For example, with Street Outreach and Coordinated Entry, when clients cannot be contacted, they are exited from these types of projects (outflow) on the last date a caseworker last had contact with them. Caseworkers reach out to clients on a regular basis to verify the clients current living situation and update client contact information. Since the data is dynamic, so is the One Number.
To ensure that the One Number is as accurate as possible and to the end of continuous quality improvement (CQI), a deep dive was conducted into data from the year prior. Through this process, administrative changes were made to the historical data to bring them “up to date” with current realities. For example, records of individuals who had previously been categorized as “inactive,” and have since been found to have exited the system to permanent housing, had the status updated. While this change did not impact the overall total significantly, it did result in a slightly more accurate data set.
This is a process that will continue to be undertaken on a quarterly basis. In addition, when an individual or household moves into housing, HUD requires that a “housing move-in date” be entered into HMIS for the head of household only. This historical analysis found that the One Number report logic removed heads of household from the By-Name List when the individual/household was housed and a “housing move-in date” was entered in HMIS. However, since the children and other non-heads of household were not required by HUD to have a “housing move-in date”, they were not exited from the By-name list with their respective heads of household. The report logic has been revised and the report now exits the entire household from the By-Name List when a housing move-in date is entered instead of only exiting the head of household from the report. This report logic update will continue to be monitored through monthly CQI analysis efforts.
With data, it is important to be mindful of both the “forest” and the “trees.” Analysis of the “trees,” such as changes in inflow and outflow, can indicate where interventions should be accelerated and/or changed to reduce and prevent homelessness. A “forest” view serves as an important reminder of why the data matters; how it can be useful; and where limitations exist. If we focus solely on the trees, we lose sight of the forest; and vice versa.
The One Number is the best snapshot available for the number of people experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Compared with the Point-in-Time Count, the One Number provides a more “real-time” enumeration, as it is updated monthly. The One Number also captures individuals who would have been left out of the Point-in-Time Count because their homelessness occurred outside of the narrow dates during which the Point-in-Time Count is conducted.
The One Number also has limitations. First, it is still an undercount of all people experiencing homelessness. It does not (yet) include all households experiencing homelessness through hotels and/or motels; or living in “doubled up” situations with family and/or friends. Therefore, it is helpful to think of the One Number as the floor: it is the most accurate count of the minimum number of people actively experiencing homelessness in the community. Trees, for the forest.
In addition, the One Number reflects the chaos that is homelessness. People move in and out of homelessness. They may seek assistance at multiple places; they may even separate and/or form households during their period(s) of homelessness. Data systems like HMIS attempt to track the patterns, trends, and service utilization; and help communities make sense of their situation. It is important that as communities interpret data like the One Number that there is a recognition of the messiness that undergirds it. Forest, from the trees.
The One Number data update is not limited to the refresh of historical date and process improvements. It also reasserts a commitment to continuous quality improvement. Most excitingly, it is the opportunity to share new facets of the One Number in addition to the data refresh in the coming weeks. New data, including race and ethnicity population compositions, will be available to help address issues of equity and inclusion among the people experiencing housing instability and homelessness. All of these efforts will lead to a healthier ecosystem, with clearer insight into both individual trees and the forest as a whole.
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.
Mary Ann Priester is the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) System Coordinator 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.