Ending Homelessness Today — Point in Time Counts
What's so special about the PIT counts?
January 27, 2011
A few days ago, Catherine talked about point-in-time counts.
As a researcher, I can’t begin to tell you how important that raw data is to both understanding homelessness and measuring whether or not we’re making any progress on the problem. In fact, point-in-time (PIT) counts were pivotal to The State of Homelessness report.
The PIT counts are a census conducted on a single night in January by communities across the U.S (over 450 communities participated for the last count). This PIT count is not the only data available on the homeless population; there’s also 12-month data collected by these communities. However, the PIT counts have a clear advantage over the 12-month data because the PIT data captures data on the unsheltered populations as well as sheltered populations.
But getting this wonderful data – now that’s another thing altogether.
Imagine for a minute the logistical nightmares of conducting the PIT counts across the boundaries of an entire community, block by block, in order to capture that unsheltered data. Despite participation in the census by a large contingent of volunteers and an expert group of homeless service workers, it still sounds challenging, doesn’t it? Each year, though, communities are continually learning from their experiences, and their methodologies for conducting the census continue to improve.
The reality is, while imperfect, the PIT counts provide the best available data on what the homeless population “looks like” on a given night. And the reality of increasing homeless counts among the total population and each subpopulation—families, family households, individuals, chronic, and unsheltered—is unsettling.
While The State of Homelessness in America provides a disquieting picture of increased homelessness, the report also marks a continuation of something started with the original Counts report. That is, The State of Homelessness report will continue to monitor changes in homelessness and check on progress we are making as a nation on ending homelessness in America.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about the counts data. Leave them in the comments!... Read More »
Are you helping out with the point-in-time count?
January 19, 2011
Every year, right around this time, communities across the country conduct their point-in-time count.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that communities receiving federal funds from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program conduct a point-in-time count at least every other year. Most communities conduct their counts annually; some do it even more often than that.
These point-in-time counts are the cornerstone of homelessness data. Data conducted during these counts are used to create the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress and provide the best data available on the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States.
Count methodology varies across the country. For smaller communities, volunteers may comb the streets and individually count each and every person they see experiencing homelessness. And then there are some communities – think New York, Detroit, Los Angeles – where such a practice would be impossible. So advocates and city officials create formulas and algorithms to extrapolate a more limited count into a realistic estimate. And every year, count methodology evolves and improves so we’re able to get a more and more accurate count.
And why’s that important? Because in order to solve a problem, we first have to understand it – and these counts are the first line in developing that understanding. Before we delve into the details, before we pick apart subpopulations and demographics, we gauge the scope of the problem by understanding these point-in-time counts.
And – as always –... Read More »
Why Aren’t We Counting the Kids?
January 04, 2011
This January, every Continuum of Care (CoC) in the United States will be conducting a point-in-time count of their homeless population. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) wants an accurate count of all people experiencing homelessness in a community – so they require communities to submit a count when they apply for homeless assistance funding.
Trouble is, we’re not getting the full picture. All too often, unaccompanied youth (kids not with their parents), get overlooked during these counts.
Communities have found that young people (under the age of 25) don’t behave like their adult counterparts: they don’t congregate in the same areas, they don’t always access the same services, they just can’t be found in the same places. So to get an accurate count of the total homeless population, communities must develop a strategy specifically targeting unaccompanied homeless youth.
Why, you ask? That’s a great question. Because we know that point-in-time counts are no picnic. We know communities are already expending tremendous resources to conduct counts. We know that asking communities develop yet another program to count specifically unaccompanied youth can seem cumbersome. We get it, we know, it’s not easy.
But they’re our kids. We all know they’re out there, we all know they need our help. Research has demonstrated that youth experiencing homelessness are at higher risk of experiencing violence, abuse, exploitation, and a host of other dangers. But we still don’t have... Read More »
But what about the children?
November 08, 2010
Okay, so I really mean what about the youth.
Today, we hosted our first in a series of webinars about youth homelessness.
Here's the thing about youth homelessness: we know just enough to know that we hardly know anything at all.
We know a little: RHYA shows us that there are young people out there looking for help. Data from the juvenile justice and the foster care systems show us that young people are exiting those systems and ending up homeless. Research from institutions like Chapin Hall outline the relationship between youth homelessness and child welfare.
We know that there's a problem.
But we're grappling with pieces of the puzzle. And if we at the Alliance have learned anything at all, it's that we must fully understand a problem in order to really get serious about solving it.
So we're asking you guys to start with the data. On our webinar today, Barbara Poppe from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and Nan Roman, the Alliance's own president, emphasized the importance of including youth in the 2011 community point-in-time counts. The first step to solving a problem, we've concluded, is to determine the scope of the problem.
As a critical observer in the field, I can testify that I've been hearing stories from advocates and reporters alike asking if there's any evidence to back up anecdotal data about an increase in homeless youth and specifically about the vulnerability of those... Read More »
How to Count Homeless Youth - Find out With Nan Roman and Barbra Poppe!
November 04, 2010
We know they’re out there.
Young people who are living on the streets alone. Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) program counts show us that there are young people seeking assistance in communities across the country. The National Extranet Optimized Runaway and Homeless Youth Management Information System (NEO-RHYMIS) shows us that there are thousands of young people seeking basic services and beds.
We know they’re out there – but that’s about all we know.
Lost in the mix of seasons greetings and veterans remembrance is a noteworthy event that doesn’t hit the radar for most Americans this month: it’s National Homeless Youth Awareness Month.
It’s a really important month. Despite the fact that everyone will agree that youth homelessness is an existing problem, there’s nothing else to agree on: we have no reliable or regular source of data on this vulnerable subpopulation. We know they’re there, we know they’re young, we know they need our help. But we don’t know how many there are, we don’t know much about the characteristics of this group, we don’t know how they enter or exit homelessness, we don’t know how they survive while experiencing homelessness, we don’t know how long they’re homeless, where, or how.
And we can’t solve a problem without fully understanding it.
So that’s where we need to start: with data.
We at the Alliance are encouraging our local ... Read More »
Major Findings in the 5th Quarterly Pulse Report
October 21, 2010
On Tuesday, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the Fifth Quarterly Pulse report – a snapshot of homelessness in eight communities across the country. This latest report covers the time between January to March 2010.
The moral of the story, as conveyed by the current report, is that homelessness is mostly down.
There was a one percent decrease in the overall shelter count between the fourth and fifth quarters. (All but NYC reported decreases in their local counts.)
There was a four percent decrease in the number of sheltered persons in families between the fourth and fifth quarters (All but the Richmond, VA community reported decreases in their local family counts.)
There was a three percent increase in sheltered homeless individuals between the fourth and fifth quarters. (Despite notable decreases in some areas – VA, CT, and KY – increases in other communities, including OH and NYC, contributed to a rise in this number.)
We also noted a couple of economic indicators:
When comparing January – March 2009 to January – March 2010, seven of the eight sites showed increased joblessness. (LA showed a 0.1 percent improvement in joblessness.)
Five communities experienced increased joblessness between the fourth and fifth quarters.
Half of the sites had increased rates of foreclosure activity.
Another point of concern (that’s often reported in news outlets) is the number of newly homeless. In this quarter’s Pulse report, we see that:
In the eight communities surveyed, the number of newly homeless serv... Read More »
Counting Homelessness - the 2010 point-in-time counts
January 26, 2010
Hello! I’m Caroline Wagner, and I’m the newest addition to the Alliance staff - Nan Roman’s new assistant. This is my very first blogpost – and it’s about something that I’ve been interested in since I started working in the housing and homelessness field. As anyone on the Alliance staff will tell you, accurate, comprehensive data about homelessness is both critical to creating effective policy and hard to come by. And one of the most reliable, most regular pieces of data mandated nationally is the January point-in-time counts. In the last week of January – read: this week – communities across the country conduct a count to gauge the number of people experiencing homelessness in their area. This information, mandated every other year by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is a prerequisite to receiving homeless assistance funding. Counts data is aggregated and analyzed by HUD and local governments across the country. The Department releases a national report of their findings based on these counts in late summer. So the question plaguing me was this: how exactly are these extensive, seemingly impossible counts conducted? The answer is surprisingly simple. It’s a lot like you’d expect – heavy legwork by community officials, local leaders, and service providers. Volunteers comb sidewalks, shelters, and soup kitchens counting each and every person experiencing homelessness. For many larger cities, methodology gets even more sophisticated in an effort to ensure accuracy. Los Angeles, Californ... Read More »
Friday News Roundup: 38 percent drop in homelessness in Los Angeles, California
October 30, 2009
Without question, the news of the day is the reported 38 percent drop in Los Angeles, CA.
In a year when everything seemed to present endless challenges for the homeless and homeless advocacy community – rising unemployment, stifled state budgets, increasing homeless counts, reduction of public services, and the rest – it seemed incredible that the city with the largest homeless population in the country saw such a pronounced decrease in their numbers. The Los Angeles Continuum of Care (CoC) is a solid ten percent of the entire homeless population in the country – so any significant movement in their number would represent a notable change in the nation’s homeless population.
All to say – we definitely noticed.
And the inevitable question that rises from such a report is this: how?
Alliance staff has ruminated about the data for the last couple days. Together, we discussed the drop in the sheltered count (down by 19 percent), rental unit vacancy rates for the last five years (up by 3 percent), the unemployment rate (up by 5 percent), the Consumer Price Index (down by 4 percent), and – of course – methodology. We compared Los Angeles to New York and the nation, comparing numbers and rates and population, noting the general difficulties in counting homelessness people – especially the unsheltered (67 percent of the homeless population in LA is unsheltered.)
Of course, all these variables could play a role in determining how and why the count went down as significantly as it did. The rate of rental ... Read More »
Data + Research: Video Fact Sheet
October 06, 2009
Apologies for the hiatus over the last week.
But today, we make it up to you by launching our very first video fact sheet.
A lot of times, we get asked this question: How many homeless people are there?
And while that may seem like a simple question to answer, it’s actually more complicated than it seems. It’s not easy to count homeless people, so there are a lot of estimates. It depends on how you define “homelessness”. It depends on the groups you’re interested in – most people think of single adult men when they picture homelessness, but there are also families and children and veterans.
There’s also different methodology – the Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that all communities count homeless persons in their area every other year, but people count in different ways, so the number should account for that.
And we get variations of the question, too. How many people are homeless in a specific community? How many people who are homeless have a serious disorder? How many people are disabled? How many are youth? How many qualify for federal assistance – and of those, who’s accessing federal assistance?
So it’s actually a pretty complicated answer – and sometimes it can be hard to understand.
But luckily for you, the director of the Homelessness Research Institute – M William Sermons – put together this great video fact sheet explaining the numbers in an easy, understandable way... Read More »
HMIS Data in Minnesota
September 28, 2009
Today, we have a great guest post from our friends in Minnesota. It discusses data, and the importance of that data in approaching homelessness effectively and responsibly. As a member of our own Homelessness Research Institute at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the importance of good, solid data is something I’ve learned very, very well. Hope you get the message too.
Between October 1, 2007 and September 30, 2008, nearly 13,000 people stayed in the emergency shelter and transitional housing programs that participate in Minnesota’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), according to a recent report from Wilder Research. HMIS participating organizations have about 3,400 beds per night designated for people experiencing homelessness, about 57 percent of the state’s total capacity.
The report, Homeless Service Use in Minnesota: Emergency shelter and transitional housing, federal fiscal year 2008 provides numbers and characteristics of people who reside in HMIS-participating emergency and transition housing. It uses aggregated data submitted annually to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for its Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress.
A companion report presents detailed tables for each of Minnesota’s 13 HUD-related ‘Continuum of Care’(CoC) regions. (As we’ve discussed on this blog before, a CoC is the administrative unit in charge homeless programs.)
Minnesota has among the highest AHAR participation rates in the county. In addition to strengthening HUD’s report and providing useful information at the local level, high AHAR participation helps secure funding for homeless programs throug... Read More »
Troubles in Colorado
September 18, 2009
So Colorado is counting their homeless population, and the outlook doesn’t really look so great for the state.
According to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, there are about 11,061 homeless people in the metro Denver region. That number is about 4 percent higher than the last official count in 2007, but homeless advocates think that the survey results are already out of date since their January 2009 count. John Parvensky, director of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, suggests that the real number could be up to 20 percent higher than the 2007 count.
The Alliance had long anticipated that the number of people experiencing homelessness would rise in these economic times, especially if there were no national or other concerted actions to try to remedy the effects of the recession on the very poor and the homeless (who, as we know, are often the hardest hit by economy tumult). Luckily since then, the President has since then created the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program (HPRP) as a part of the stimulus and we are, in fact, seeing evidence of rising homelessness and more people in need of basic services.
Here are a couple of highlights about the news from Colorado.
The Denver Post reports that almost approximately 45 percent of those recently counted were newly homeless.
34.7 percent of those counted attribute their homelessness primarily to job loss; 31.2 percent counted attribute their homelessness to the inability to pay for housing.
The Denver count also suggest t... Read More »
Data + Research: the Annual Homeless Assessment Report
July 09, 2009
Today, we’ve got some big news. It’s really big. It’s huge. It is [cue music] - the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)!!
...It’s really much more exciting than it sounds.
Basically, the AHAR is a comprehensive review of homelessness counts and trends in 2008. But before we delve into the magical world of data and statistics, there’s something you should know about this year’s report [cue suspense music]:
This year, there were TWO kinds of data collected: point-in-time counts and year-long data. Point-in-time counts are pretty much raw numbers. They tell us how many homeless people and what kind. Year-long data give us a little more detail about the demographics of these counts. Year-long data is also a bit newer than the point-in-time counts. This is the second year in a row that HUD collected year-long data, and we’re really pretty excited about the increase in data availability and analysis. (Yes, because we’re nerds.)
So without further ado…
This year’s AHAR shows that, overall, homelessness is flat compared to last year. Numbers vary slightly between the point-in-time count and the year-long data, but the Alliance concludes that the changes, if any, are marginal.
What’s much more interesting than the total number of homeless people is the information about specific types of homelessness – most significantly, chronic homelessness and family homelessness.
AHAR shows that chronic homelessness is... Read More »