Last week’s Building Bridges blog post provided information about the numbers used to describe homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, including the Point-in-Time Count.
The 2019 Point-in-Time Count numbers will be released in late summer as part of the 2019 State of Housing Instability & Homelessness Report. This week’s blog post will cover the Point-in-Time Count in more detail, including why the numbers are reported with other data on housing and homelessness.
ABOUT THE POINT-IN-TIME COUNT
The Point-in-Time Count (PIT) provides a one-night snapshot of the number and characteristics of people experiencing homelessness in emergency shelter and transitional housing, and is the sole method used to count individuals in unsheltered locations. The Housing Inventory Count (HIC), which is captured on the same night as the PIT, provides a similar one-night tally of the number of beds and units available to temporarily or permanently house people experiencing homelessness. The PIT and HIC are required activities of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Continuum of Care (CoC), which receives federal funding to provide homelessness assistance. The data from the PIT & HIC are submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). HUD combines information from all CoCs in a report given to the U.S. Congress.
At a minimum, the CoC is required to report a census and demographics including age, race, gender and ethnicity. The HIC requires an inventory of how many beds are occupied and available in both emergency shelters and transitional housing. It also requires a number for how many units are in use deployed by rapid re-housing, other permanent housing and permanent supportive housing providers.
WHY CONTEXT IS CRITICAL
It is important to consider the limitations of the PIT & HIC when using either number alone; these data points must be considered as just one of multiple indicators to understand progress in the work to end and prevent homelessness in the community.
The PIT is an undercount of the overall homeless population. As a one-night snapshot, the PIT does not capture all of the individuals who experience homelessness across a calendar year; nor does it count those who are doubled up or living in hotels and motels. The PIT should be combined with the number of calls to NC 2-1-1 for assistance with housing, the number of Coordinated Entry assessments and other indicators to get an accurate picture of the nature and extent of homelessness in the community.
The PIT is limited by the universe of providers in the HIC. For example, if an emergency shelter is added to the HIC, the PIT census will likely increase. If there are people experiencing homelessness being served by a provider who is included in the HIC, those individuals are likewise not counted as part of the PIT. The PIT must be combined with other System Performance Measures (SPMs) and by-name list metrics to get a true sense of inflow into and outflow from homelessness.
The PIT must be examined jointly with HIC. By looking at both together, communities can analyze year-over-year changes, shifts in capacity and utilization, and service gaps. This allows communities to spot and understand trends. For example, in 2018 and 2019, the temperature was cold enough to activate overflow beds within emergency shelters. This means that individuals who might have been counted as unsheltered, or not counted at all, would be counted as part of the emergency shelter count. If there is a reported decrease in the PIT Count, a close look at the HIC is required to determine if that falloff was because shelter capacity was lost. Without the context of the HIC, a decrease in PIT does not necessarily mean that homelessness or housing instability has decreased in the community.
It is critical to look at the Point-in-Time Count and Housing Inventory Count as one of multiple indicators to understand the current state of housing instability and homelessness in the community. Other indicators, like changes in the number of people seeking housing assistance through Coordinated Entry and the number of evictions filed, can help paint an overall picture of need in the community. Factors including length of stay in emergency shelter as well as changes in investment in subsidies can impact the capacity and efficiency of the housing and homelessness system. Supply factors like the number of affordable housing units under development and the number of naturally occurring affordable housing units available shed additional light on community progress, or lack thereof. In order to tackle the complex problem of housing instability and homelessness, it vital that the community see the fullest possible picture. Reporting the Point-in-Time Count alongside other measures is currently the best way to paint the full picture.
The Point-in-Time Count can also be more than a one-night snapshot of the number and characteristics of people experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. In fact, if the only information we report is a single number gathered from a single night, or even whether that number goes up or down, we will lose the real value of the Point-in-Time Count.
LOCAL DATA FOR DECISION MAKING
Charlotte-Mecklenburg uses the Point-in-Time Count activity as an opportunity to go above and beyond what is required for federal funding to capture data that can also inform local decision making. In 2019, some of these locally-derived questions delve into topics such as where respondents were living before they became homeless, if respondents have been charged with quality of life crimes as a result of their homelessness, their income levels, and perceived housing barriers. Over 250 volunteers and staff from homeless service agencies assist each January in capturing this information as part of the EverybodyCountsCharlotte community engagement work.
ADVOCATES FOR WHY IT MATTERS
The activity of the Point-in-Time Count requires that we conduct surveys with every person experiencing homelessness, which requires a face-to-face conversation. This offers us all a reminder that there is a person behind each number. We meet people where they are, we ask deeply personal questions, we hear stories of strength and perseverance as well as loss and heartache and, although we walk away when we’re done, we become advocates for housing. The Point-in-Time Count helps us to keep lifting up the voice of each and every person and family that is experiencing homelessness. This is important as we consider the weight of all the numbers on housing and homelessness and the implications for decision making at every level, including in our own lives.
The 2019 Point-in-Time Count numbers and survey responses will be released with other housing instability and homelessness indicators within the 2019 State of Housing Instability & Homelessness Report.
Courtney Morton 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.