When asked to describe the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Dashboard, I often start with, “Well, the Dashboard is really more than just a ‘dashboard.’”
The word “dashboard” has always conjured for me static images of widgets in quadrants. But, as the Housing & Homelessness Dashboard has evolved, we learned that dashboards can be dynamic; they can provide an “at-a-glance” view of key indicators; and, like the dashboard of a vehicle, contain the instruments and controls needed to drive where you want to go. In that sense, “dashboard” has become the perfect name to encapsulate what it does. And, it still is more than just a dashboard.
Mecklenburg County Community Support Services (CSS) launched the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Dashboard in August 2017. The Housing & Homelessness Dashboard was developed in partnership with the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute.
One goal of the Housing & Homelessness Dashboard is to provide a dedicated “hub” for all housing and homelessness related information, research and data pertaining to Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Since its release in 2017, the Housing & Homelessness Dashboard has expanded and to integrate new content and features. There have been over 20,000 users with 83,000 page views. We have published over 100 blog posts. And, it is still growing and changing.
This blog post will highlight just a few of the key additions to the Housing & Homelessness Dashboard over the past three years. It will also provide a glimpse of what is to come, and how these planned changes could help drive Charlotte-Mecklenburg forward.
DATA AND VISUALIZATIONS
Currently, there are two, dedicated “data” pages on the Housing & Homelessness Dashboard. The first, System Performance Measures, is located on the “Progress” page. This page has been available since the initial release of the Housing & Homelessness Dashboard; the data are updated annually. Considered as a “set” of system metrics, the System Performance Measures provide the community with information about how different components of the homeless system are performing, and to what extent each component might impact one another. For example, we can look at the measure focused on the average length of stay for people in emergency shelter in relationship to the measures on exits to permanent housing and returns to homelessness. An increase in the average length of stay could be correlated with a decrease in the number of exits to permanent housing (due to not enough available and accessible affordable housing units, for example) and/or an increase in the number of returns to homelessness (due to need for increased subsidy tenure and/or need to address lack of sufficient income to sustain housing, for example).
Since 2017, CSS has added several new features in this category:
- Housing Data Snapshot: A dedicated space for three key metrics related to ending and preventing homelessness. The Snapshot includes the One Number (a monthly update of the number of people actively experiencing homelessness in the community); Inflow & Outflow (a monthly update of the breakdown of populations entering and exiting homelessness); and Coordinated Entry (a quarterly update of the number of people seeking housing assistance in the community).
- Racial Equity Analysis Tool: Adapted from the Continuum of Care (CoC) Racial Equity Analysis Tool in partnership with UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, CSS released a tool to help the community identify and visualize racial and ethnic disparities in the local homeless services system.
- Housing & Homelessness Data Fact Sheet: A “go-to” resource for updated, key housing instability and homelessness statistics. Included on the Fact Sheet are definitions and how the data can be used to inform local decision-making. The Fact Sheet is a PDF; and can easily be downloaded and/or printed.
Connecting data on housing and homelessness with the community is central to the overall mission of the Housing & Homelessness Dashboard. To that end, we are constantly exploring ways to visualize new (and historic) data to help inform community decision-making. Stay tuned for new data visualizations of historical and current data connected to System Performance Measures; One Number (including Inflow & Outflow); Coordinated Entry; and Housing Instability indicators.
ECOSYSTEM OF ALL HOUSING INTERVENTIONS
CSS, in partnership with UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, produced the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing & Homelessness Ecosystem in 2019. The Housing & Homelessness Ecosystem ennumerates the network of housing and homelessness service organizations in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The term “ecosystem” is typically used to describe a group of interconnected elements both individually and by their relationship in a defined area. Charlotte-Mecklenburg can use the Housing & Homelessness Ecosystem to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the homeless services system by observing, defining, and quantifying the discrete elements in the ecosystem; cataloguing its interconnectedness; and standardizing the tools for studying and evaluating the system.
The initial release of the Housing & Homelessness Ecosystem included standardized definitions for housing assistance (such as prevention, diversion, sheltered homelessness, and permanent housing); roles and responsibilities across the housing continuum; housing inventory and capacity; and funding sources.
The first iteration of the Housing & Homelessness Ecosystem provided an initial step in what is envisioned as creating a culture of continuous improvement. The next version of the Housing & Homelessness Ecosystem will include updated inventory and capacity data. It will also introduce additional elements of the Ecosystem. These new elements include specific funding amounts for each type of housing intervention across all organizations. In addition to performance metrics, funding information is a critical component for communities to understand their return on investment, both across the housing continuum and by type of housing intervention.
In addition to the main Dashboard site, the Housing & Homelessness Dashboard is home to three additional sites: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care (CoC); EverybodyCountsCharlotte (Point-in-Time Count); and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hub for Housing Info related to COVID-19. While each of these sites contain different information, they are all linked to the Housing & Homelessness Dashboard and, in some cases, cross-link information across sites. This linkage helps drive new users to all pages.
Below are overviews and links to these three sites connected to the Housing & Homelessness Dashboard:
- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care (CoC): The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care includes individuals and organizations across Mecklenburg County who are committed to ending and preventing homelessness. The Continuum of Care (CoC) Program is authorized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The CoC site contains information about the CoC; CoC activities, workgroups and committees; and how to get involved.
- Everybody Counts Charlotte (Point-in-Time Count): The Point-in-Time Count is when the community surveys people experiencing homelessness on one night at the end of January. The Point-in-Time Count is a required activity for the CoC to receive federal homelessness funding assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). The Point-in-Time Count site contains information about the survey event, as well as ways to support this community effort.
- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hub for Housing Info related to COVID-19: The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hub for Housing Info related to COVID-19 provides a dedicated space for local, regional, and national housing information related to the novel coronavirus. The site was developed to help local providers and decision-makers stay informed. The site continues to be updated regularly, and is organized into nine main categories, which include: community preparedness; crisis response; news and updates; and policy and funding.
There are no new independent sites identified for development at this time. However, just as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hub for Housing Info related to COVID-19 was created in response to an unforeseen condition, we will respond to the data and information visualization needs of the community as they arise.
We are actively in development of a “news” space within the Housing & Homelessness Dashboard that will provide up-to-date news and stories related to housing instability and homelessness. The news page will provide users with a curated list of articles and links of local; regional; national; and global research, information, and exemplars from other communities on housing-related issues, challenges, and solutions.
While the Housing & Homelessness Dashboard continues to mature, each change must align with four goals that were developed at its birth. These goals were informed by interviews with over seventy stakeholders who spanned the work related to housing and homelessness. These goals are:
- To promote awareness and understanding about housing instability and homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg;
- To increase data literacy among all community stakeholders;
- To create a one-stop-resource for information on housing instability and homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg; and
- To strengthen the effectiveness and efficiency of the housing and homelessness system through data and research.
We are always open to feedback on what is working and what might needs to be modified; you can share your thoughts via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. To sign up for the weekly Building Bridges blog, please enter your email address at the bottom of the homepage.
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.