Mecklenburg County Community Support Services first released the “One Number” in 2019 as part of the annual Charlotte-Mecklenburg State of Housing Instability & Homelessness Report. Since its initial release, the One Number has become the “go-to” number for how many people are experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
The One Number is found on the Housing Data Snapshot, a hub for the latest information related to housing and homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Generated 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, Rapid Re-housing (if there is no move-in date to housing yet) and Coordinated Entry project inventories in HMIS. The One Number 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; 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. Once identified, these trends can then inform interventions.
We are excited to share today the latest One Number update, which includes a complete refresh of all historical One Number data; trends and analysis; and what this means for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
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 someone to move into permanent housing. If an individual is no longer actively involved in the homeless services system for more than 90 days, that individual is removed from the By-Name List. Upon any subsequent return for assistance, the individual is likewise returned to the list.
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, the reporting month is dependent on both the date of data entry, as well as the dates of the activities, themselves. Since people are dynamic, the data is dynamic; therefore, so is the One Number.
To account for this nature of the One Number, and as part of the historical refresh process, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg data team has developed a “reliability threshold” for the One Number and subpopulation data; and set it at 5%. The threshold is calculated by taking the actual active number of the people on the By-Name list (pulled from HMIS on the last day of each month) and subtracting the number of active people expected to be on the By-Name list (the number of people expected to be active if we take the prior month’s active total, subtract the current month’s outflow, and add the current month’s inflow). The difference is divided by the actual active number to give us the monthly data reliability.
If the data had a 0% reliability, it would mean that the actual and the expected were the same. There are any number of reasons why community data may have a data reliability score greater than 0. In some cases, people enter and exit our homeless services system to a non-homeless situation within the same month. This means that they are not ever counted as part of our monthly active number. Similarly, we may see people returning from housing or inactive status and then exiting to housing in the same month.
In addition, both Street Outreach and Coordinated Entry workflows exit clients from the system after 90 days of no contact. The exit date for clients who have been unable to be contacted for 90 days is the date of last contact. This means that these providers may exit clients in a previous month, which impacts the overall active and inflow/outflow numbers. Finally, HMIS is administrative data; and ever changing. Anytime that providers update client data in the system, where it involves creating a program entry; exiting a client; or changing a client exit destination, there will be an impact on the overall system data and the associated monthly active and inflow/outflow numbers.
LATEST DATA & TRENDS
As of December 31, 2020, there are 3,052 individuals experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. This total includes 1,777 single individuals (of which, 86 are unaccompanied youth); and 375 families (comprised of 1,299 people). Of the total, there are also 242 homeless veterans and 504 individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.
The total number of people experiencing homelessness in December 2020 marks the second highest total since February 2020. The total number had started to decrease in February; however, June 2020 marked a significant shift in which the total began to steadily increase each month. The growth was largely due to an increase in the number of families, as opposed to individuals, which almost doubled between June and December 2020. To view the historical data, including this trend, please click here.
Considering inflow (into homelessness) and outflow (out of homelessness), below are two trends to note, corresponding to the two major shifts in the historical data:
- The second noteworthy decrease in the One Number during the past year coincided with the period following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, between February and June 2020. During this time, inflow dropped in March 2020, then remained steady for three months, before increasing to around 500 in June. At the same time, outflow was at its highest. However, most of the increase in outflow was due to individuals moving to an “inactive status.” As context, this period represents the time during which homeless services organizations were in the process of shifting operations in response to COVID-19 and Coordinated Entry shifted from in-person to virtual appointments. In addition, it is important to note that seasonal shelter beds that had previously been available were phased out during this period.
- The second significant increase in the One Number during the past year begins after June 2020, growing by over 1,000 individuals during the final six months of the year. During this period, inflow averaged 514 individuals, while outflow averaged only 375. Most significantly, the number of people exiting into permanent housing decreased to an all-time low of 182 in December 2020. As context, it is important note during this period (and in response to COVID-19) the community’s temporary shelter capacity has increased.
The One Number is the best snapshot available for the number of people experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. This is an important reminder, especially, as this update is released one day after the designated night for the 2021 Point-in-Time Count. 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 omitted from the Point-in-Time Count because their homelessness occurred outside of the narrow time frame 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 minimum count of the number of people actively experiencing homelessness in the community.
As the latest One Number indicates, the minimum number of people (adults and children) experiencing homelessness (and therefore, the minimum number of housing units and/or subsidies needed right now) in Charlotte-Mecklenburg is 3,052. The national eviction moratorium has slowed, but not fully stopped the inflow into homelessness. Without additional intervention, the total number of people experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg will likely continue to increase.
Despite the limitations of the Point-in-Time Count, there is an important lesson from that effort that should transcend any and all data on homelessness and housing instability: that behind every data point is a person with a story who matters. In order to transition from numbers to actions that matter, it is essential that we keep the people who comprise the data at the forefront. Because if we consider each data point as a person who matters, then even one individual experiencing homelessness is one individual too many.
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.