Understanding Homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg: Exploring the Sheltered Homeless Census and One Number Data

Mary Ann Priester

Senior Management Analyst
Mecklenburg County Community Support Services

Each year Continuums of Care (CoCs) across the United States conduct the HUD Point-in-Time (PIT) count, a nationwide effort focused on gathering data on homelessness. The primary goals of the PIT count are to estimate the total number of individuals experiencing homelessness and gain insights into their demographics and living conditions to inform policies and programs addressing homelessness.

The PIT count consists of two main components: the Sheltered Homeless Census and the Unsheltered Homeless Census. The Sheltered Homeless Census focuses on quantifying the number of individuals residing in emergency shelters, safe havens, or transitional housing on the night of the count. The Unsheltered Homeless Census aims to enumerate individuals who are experiencing homelessness and are living in places not intended for habitation, such as on the streets, in vehicles, or other unsheltered locations. Both components are necessary in order to capture individuals who access shelter services and those who do not.

The annual PIT Count is an important data source that can be used by communities to assess homelessness trends and inform policy and funding decisions but it has a number of limitations and is widely acknowledged as not capturing the full extent of homelessness in the United States. For this reason CoCs supplement PIT data with other data sources to gain a more comprehensive understanding of homelessness. Locally, One Number data, which is updated monthly, is a key data source that is utilized to better understand the current state of homelessness in Mecklenburg County.

A previous blog post provided in an in-depth description of the limitations of the PIT count and data from the 2023 Unsheltered Homeless Census. This blog focuses on the 2023 Sheltered Homeless Census and the community’s One Number.

Sheltered Homeless Census

The purpose of the Sheltered Homeless Census is to provide a snapshot of the number of people accessing emergency shelters, transitional housing, or safe havens at a specific point in time. This data enables communities to gain crucial insights into the needs and experiences of individuals utilizing shelter services, enabling them to tailor assistance and support to better address homelessness in their area.

The Sheltered Homeless Census includes both agencies/programs who enter data into the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) and those who do not. HMIS staff work collaboratively with CoC membership to identify known and unknown organizations that are providing emergency shelter, transitional housing, or safe haven services in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. All programs that meet the HUD required criteria for participation are included in the count. The CoC uses data collected and entered in HMIS as the primary data source for the Sheltered Homeless Census. All non-HMIS emergency shelter, safe haven, and transitional housing projects provide data securely to the HMIS PIT Data Team. Together these data are synthesized and deduplicated to determine the final counts. Prior to submission to HUD, the final data set for both the Sheltered and Unsheltered Censuses are reviewed by the Data Advisory Committee, a data-focused stakeholder group of the CoC.

One Number

Mecklenburg County Community Support Services introduced the “One Number” in 2019 and since its inception, it has emerged as the primary point of reference for quantifying the nature and extent of local homelessness. The One Number consists of individuals enrolled in Emergency Shelter, Transitional Housing, Street Outreach, Permanent Housing (if the person has not moved into housing), Coordinated Entry , and By-Name List projects within HMIS. It incorporates both those experiencing sheltered homelessness and a portion of those experiencing unsheltered homelessness and provides a comprehensive By-Name List of persons experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

One Number data not only provides an overall count of homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, it also can provide a granular analysis of that count based on household composition and population types. Data is broken down into major population categories such as single individuals, families, unaccompanied youth, veterans, and those experiencing chronic homelessness. One Number data also facilitates the examination of inflow and outflow patterns associated with homelessness. By monitoring One Number data over time, including household composition and inflow/outflow dynamics, the community can identify noteworthy trends. These trends can inform targeted interventions and strategies to address homelessness effectively.

2023 Sheltered Census Data

Thirty-one emergency shelter and transitional housing programs from 18 homeless services agencies participated in the 2023 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Point-in-Time Count Sheltered Homeless Census. All of these programs are publicly or privately operated shelters that offer temporary living arrangements such as congregate shelters, transitional housing, and hotels and motels paid for by charitable organizations or by federal, state, or local government programs. Sixteen are classified as emergency shelter, 14 are classified as transitional housing, and 1 is classified as a safe haven.

On January 26, 2023, 1210 households totaling 1628 persons were experiencing sheltered homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Of those, 1277 people were utilizing emergency shelter, 342 were utilizing transitional housing, and 9 were using a safe haven. Coupled with the Unsheltered Census, 1916 total persons were identified as experiencing homelessness on the night of the PIT count.

Of the 1210 households identified in the Sheltered Homeless Census, 170 were households with minor children totaling 572 people, 377 of which were children under the age of 18. Children under the age of 18 made up 23% of the total sheltered count; 21% of people in a sheltered situation on the night of the PIT were between the ages of 55 and 64. Eighty percent identified as Black, African American, or African and 95% identified as Non-Hispanic or Non-Latin(a)(e)(o). Fifty-seven percent of those who were sheltered on the night of the PIT identified as male. Three percent were unaccompanied youth ages 18-24; 8% were veterans; and 17% met the criteria for chronic homelessness.

Trends in Sheltered Homelessness

Overall, the 2023 Sheltered Homeless Census remained flat with 1609 people in 2022 and 1628 people in 2023. There was a slight decrease in people utilizing emergency shelter (1297 vs. 1277) and there was a slight increase in the number of people utilizing the safe haven program (5 vs. 9). The most notable increase was in transitional housing utilization (307 vs. 342). This increase is largely due to increased coverage of local transitional housing programs that prioritize people experiencing homelessness.

Latest One Number Data and Trends

As of May 31, 2023, there are 3,162 individuals experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. This total includes 2,141 single individuals (of which 164 are unaccompanied youth); and 327 families (comprised of 1044 people). Included in the total of 3,162 individuals are 264 homeless Veterans and 588 individuals who are experiencing chronic homelessness.

Compared to May 2022 One Number data, there has been a 7% decrease in the overall number of people experiencing homelessness; a 6% reduction in the number of single individuals experiencing homelessness; and a 14% reduction in family homelessness. However, there has been a 33% increase in veteran homelessness; a 13% increase in chronic homelessness; and a 56% increase in unaccompanied youth homelessness. It is important to note that there have been local efforts to better engage unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness and it is possible that we are not seeing an increase in unaccompanied youth homelessness but that we as a community have improved engagement and data collection for this population.

During May, 729 individuals entered homelessness (inflow) and 377 exited (outflow). Of the 729 individuals entering homelessness, 73% (530) were newly identified, whereas 13% (97) represented returns to homelessness from permanent housing and 14% (102) returned from an inactive status. Of the 377 individuals exiting homelessness, 54% (205) moved to permanent housing and 46% (172) exited homelessness to an inactive status, which means that they had not been engaged in services for the previous 30 days.

When examining inflow (entry into homelessness) and outflow (exit from homelessness), the data suggests the following notable trends:

May 2023 inflow and outflow for  the overall population, single individuals, and unaccompanied youth is consistent with data from May 2022. For families and individuals experiencing chronic homelessness, inflow in May 2023 is higher than May 2022; while veteran inflow is lower than it was in May 2022.

Further, according to the latest One Number data, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, individuals who identify as Black/African American continue to experience homelessness at rates much higher than their proportion of the Mecklenburg County population (75% vs. 31%) while Whites experience homelessness at a rate much lower than their prevalence in the population (15% vs 47%). Asian individuals have a prevalence of 1% in the homeless population but comprise 6% in overall population of Mecklenburg County. Individuals who identify as Hispanic/Latino have a prevalence of 5% in the homeless population but comprise 13% of the Mecklenburg County population.

Current and historic One Number data can be accessed via the Housing Data Snapshot.

So, What?

While the Point-in-Time (PIT) count provides valuable data on homelessness, the One Number, along with other supplementary methods can complement its limitations. These supplementary methods include the State of Housing Instability and Homelessness Report which annually synthesizes local, regional, and national data on the full housing continuum; integrated data reports which focus on specific populations and their cross-system engagement; and other federally mandated reporting such as the HUD System Performance Measures or the HUD Longitudinal System Analysis Report . Additionally, opportunities for enhanced data integration are being explored. Integrating data from multiple sources, such as HMIS, healthcare systems, criminal justice systems, and social services systems, can create a more comprehensive picture of homelessness. Enhanced cross-system data integration has the potential to provide a more holistic understanding of the complex factors contributing to homelessness and better facilitate cross-system care coordination.

None of these alternative approaches are not intended to replace the Point-in-Time (PIT) count. Instead they are intended to complement its efforts and enhance our understanding of local homelessness. This multifaceted approach is necessary to develop a more robust and well-informed response to address the complex challenges of homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.