The Point-in-Time (or PIT) Count and its complementary activities, such as the Housing Inventory Count (or HIC) are mandated by the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These required, annual activities of communities (like Charlotte-Mecklenburg) who receive federal funding to prevent and end homelessness. The PIT Count provides a snapshot of the number of people who are experiencing homelessness on one identified night in January. Experiencing homelessness, for the purposes of the PIT Count, is defined as those individuals in emergency shelter, transitional housing, or unsheltered locations. The HIC provides a snapshot of the number of beds and/or units available to temporarily house people experiencing homelessness, such as in emergency shelter and transitional housing; and the number of beds and/or units to permanently house people who have previously experienced homelessness, including rapid re-housing, other permanent housing, and permanent supportive housing. The HIC is established on the same night as the PIT Count.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg PIT & HIC numbers are submitted each year to HUD. This data is combined with the results from other communities across the United States and then reported in the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR). The AHAR is submitted to the U.S. Congress to inform funding and policies to prevent and end homelessness. Communities can also use their PIT & HIC data to inform local funding and policy priorities. This blog post will provide an overview of the results from the 2020 PIT and HIC; information about the 2021 PIT and HIC; and how the PIT and HIC can be used to support the work to address housing instability and homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
WHAT THE PIT & HIC CAN TELL US, AND WHAT THEY CANNOT
It is critical that communities know the limitations of the PIT & HIC. This is necessary to understand what the PIT & HIC can and cannot tell us about homelessness in the community. There are two main limitations. The first is related to the period in which the counting is done; the second involves the individuals counted.
First of all, the fact that the PIT is a snapshot of a single night means there will always be an undercount of the full population experiencing homelessness. A more accurate picture is presented through a regularly updated, year-round tally, like the One Number. This is true for the HIC, as well. Capacity and utilization are likewise limited to information captured on one night.
In addition, the definitions employed for the PIT & HIC do not include all of housing and homelessness service providers in the local housing and homelessness ecosystem. The definition for these activities, which is set by HUD, narrows the scope of homelessness to only those spending the night in a facility that meets the HUD criteria for emergency shelter, transitional housing, or unsheltered homelessness. While employing a standard definition may ensure consistency when collecting data across hundreds of communities, it ignores other providers which fall outside of this definition. It also excludes a count of anyone who is experiencing homelessness in “doubled-up situations” or those who paying week to week to stay in hotels or motels. Because these situations are recognized in definitions by other federal agencies and departments, such as what is considered homeless under McKinney-Vento by the U.S Education Department, there is a fundamental mismatch, as well.
Despite its limitations, the PIT & HIC can be useful. The event, itself, enables communities to raise awareness about homelessness and the need for more permanent, affordable housing. Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s PIT Count effort, known locally as “Everybody Counts Charlotte,” took “Housing Counts” as its theme in 2020. “Housing Counts” highlighted housing challenges and solutions, before and after the event, as well as collected donations for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness. Communities can also use the PIT and HIC activities as an opportunity to go beyond the mandatory questions to compile data that can be used to make decisions locally. Charlotte-Mecklenburg has gone above and beyond the PIT Count requirements to ask locally-generated survey questions for each of the past three years.
2020 PIT AND HIC COUNT RESULTS
The 2020 PIT and HIC results are included in the 2020 State of Housing Instability & Homelessness (SoHIH) report. The night designated by HUD for the 2020 PIT and HIC was January 29, 2020; data collection actually occurred between Monday, January 27 and Sunday, February 2. The data collection effort would not be possible without the support of staff in organizations that provide street outreach; PATH; emergency shelter and transitional housing; and volunteers from the broader community. Results from the 2020 Point-in-Time Count local survey questions are summarized below:
Information about income source(s) and amount(s) are collected to provide a more comprehensive picture of the individuals and households experiencing homelessness. Of the households reporting any income during the 2020 PIT Count, 57% (or, 444 households) reported full or part-time employment; and 30% (236 households) reported income from a government source such as Social Security Income. Twenty-nine percent (226 households) reported an average monthly income of at least $800 per month; 24% (188 households) reported an average monthly income between $300 and $799. A 1-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent in Charlotte-Mecklenburg runs $934 monthly; a two-bedroom apartment is $1,063. To afford the 1-bedroom apartment without being cost-burdened, a household would have to earn at least $3,200 per month; the equivalent income requirement for a 2-bedroom is at least $3,600 per month. This information serves to combat common misconceptions and stereotypes about the homeless. Most of the people who are experiencing homelessness actually have income, and a majority are employed. The data also underscores the gaps between housing cost and what a household can afford in rent; illustrates a significant lack of access; and demonstrates concerns around the sustainability of housing for those who are cost burdened.
Residency pre-dated homelessness
The PIT Count survey also asks whether individuals who are experiencing homelessness have come to Charlotte-Mecklenburg from other communities within the last 2 years. Over the past three years, the data from the PIT Count has consistently shown that the majority of individuals experiencing homelessness Charlotte-Mecklenburg are actually from Charlotte-Mecklenburg. In 2020, 60% (or, 468 households) of people experiencing homelessness on the night of the PIT Count have lived in the community for at least two years.
Barriers to Housing
Individuals are asked to share their perceived barriers to accessing housing. Examples include issues like a prior eviction; criminal record; family size; disabling condition; or transportation. Fifty-five percent (420 households) reported lack of income as their number one barrier to access and sustain housing. While unemployment accounted for most of the income gap, underemployment or receiving a fixed income source (such as Social Security) were also contributing factors. After income, the next-highest-ranked barriers were related to poor credit score; physical and/or mental health; criminal record; or eviction record. This information can be used to inform housing solutions, including how to link cross-sector responses to make the math work for households to access and sustain housing.
Access to housing with subsidy or voucher
Individuals are also asked if they currently have a housing subsidy or voucher. Data from the 2020 PIT Count is consistent with the data from both previous years. In 2020, 7% (53 households) had a housing subsidy or voucher in hand but were either unable to find a unit or waiting for a unit to be approved, and therefore homeless during the PIT Count. This data sheds light on other aspects of the housing gap: availability of, and access to, affordable housing units in the community; Source of Income Discrimination (SOID); and a general lack of landlord support for vouchers and subsidies.
“Quality of Life” Convictions
2020 was the second year this question was included on the PIT Count survey. The point is 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. In 2020, 9% (68 households) have been arrested at least once in the past year. The information from these responses can help inform options, especially in the uptown area, that promote dignity for individuals experiencing homelessness in the community.
The local survey includes questions targeting unaccompanied youth, who are defined as being between the ages of 18 and 24. These questions include the precipitating factors that led to their homelessness, and any current educational enrollment. Of the 107 surveyed in 2020, 72% (or, 41 youth) reported that they were forced to leave home for reasons including family conflict and/or intimate partner violence. Only sixteen percent (10 youth) reported that they were pursuing some form of education or career training while they were experiencing homelessness. Data collected can be used to better understand the factors that are leading to youth homelessness and inform resource allocation.
This question was new for 2020, and added because homelessness is a barrier to participating in many things, including democracy. Individuals were asked if they were registered to vote. Of the households surveyed, 34% (251 heads of household) reported that they were not yet registered to vote. If an individual was not yet registered, staff and volunteers provided information on voter registration and assistance, if requested, with completing the process.
2021 POINT-IN-TIME COUNT UPDATE
The date for the 2021 PIT and HIC has been set by HUD for Wednesday, January 27, 2021. The 2021 data will include anyone experiencing homelessness, and the capacity to temporarily and permanently house this population, as HUD defines it on the night of January 27, 2021. Many communities have expressed concerns to HUD about safely conducting the 2021 PIT Count in the midst of a pandemic. Thus far, HUD has shared only that communities may be asked to complete the sheltered portion (emergency shelter and transitional housing) of the PIT count in 2021. There has not yet been a determination made for what, if anything, will be required for the unsheltered portion of the PIT count. Updates from HUD will be monitored closely, and adjustments made to 2021 PIT Count planning in accordance with HUD guidelines.
Local planning efforts will continue to explore opportunities to enhance the work of the Point-in-time Count by leveraging the mandated activities. Going above and beyond the minimum requirements so that Charlotte-Mecklenburg can use the data collection effort to both inform Washington, D.C. and the local decision-makers who are responsible for allocating funding and creating policy.
Beyond being a requirement for federal funding, the Point-in-Time Count is a welcome reminder of our shared humanity and hopes for real, lasting change. This reminder is especially necessary in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the work of the Point-in-Time Count, communities can come to see homelessness in a different way: as an individual’s face; a person’s name; someone’s story.
Translating issues like (like housing instability and homelessness) that can appear intractable into individual people enables each of us to connect the problem to a person; feel a (new) sense of urgency to resolve the problem; and empowers us all to take whatever steps necessary to fix it. Enough small steps constitute a journey; individual actions when taken together will drive systemic change. Watch this space for more opportunities to engage with this important work.
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.