Sustaining our Data-Driven Focus: Findings and Implications of Recent Data Releases

Data can help drive progress – if we use it well and wisely. That’s true for communities and it is true for the multiple interagency working groups USICH convenes to make Federal policy decisions to help end homelessness across America. We believe in data-driven decision-making so strongly that the recently amended Federal plan to prevent and end homelessness, Opening Doors, puts an even greater emphasis on the importance of data for decision-making and performance management.

A great deal of very important data has been released in the last several weeks that adds to our understanding of the impact of the strategies and programs we are implementing. That data points to the significant progress communities have made since the launch of Opening Doors in 2010, especially in reducing unsheltered homelessness. But it also highlights some of the hard work we still have ahead. I am providing a brief overview of that data and some of the key implications here, and you can also read my more detailed analysis.

While the specifics are important, here are the high-level trends:

  • HUD’s report on communities’ Point-in-Time count data showed a 2% year-over-year decrease in overall homelessness nationally, or an 11% decline since 2010. Unsheltered homelessness has fallen 26% since 2010. That includes:
  • A 9% reduction in the number of individuals estimated to be experiencing homelessness between 2010 and 2015, including more than a 16% reduction in the number of unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness.
  • A 19% decline in the number of families with children between 2010 and 2015, including a 64% reduction in families counted as experiencing unsheltered homelessness.
  • An estimated 36% reduction between 2010 and 2015 in the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness, including a 47% reduction in the estimated number of Veterans experiencing unsheltered homelessness.
  • A 22% decline in chronic homelessness between 2010 and 2015, including a 13% reduction in unsheltered chronic homelessness.
  • Fewer unaccompanied youth and young adults counted between 2014 and 2015, though we do not believe this represents a decline in youth homelessness.
  • HUD’s AHAR Part 2 report on communities’ Homeless Management Information System data showed a 4.6% increase between 2013 and 2014 in the number of people who used shelter at some point during the year, representing the first year that sheltered homelessness grew since 2010.
  • Department of Education’s report on data from schools showed an 8% increase between the 2013 and 2014 school years in the number of students enrolled in public schools that were identified as experiencing homelessness and/or housing instability — including those who are living unsheltered, in shelters, in motels, or doubled up — at some point during the school year.

Taken together, this data has some clear implications for our continued work to end homelessness in the United States:

  • We are continuing to make progress, but need to increase the pace of progress in order to achieve the goals of Opening DoorsWhile the progress is encouraging, especially the reductions in unsheltered homelessness and the progress on Veteran homelessness, we need to continue to drive as hard as we can — and to make strategic investments — at the Federal, state, and local levels to increase our progress, including the funding for another 25,500 units of permanent supportive housing included in the President’s FY16 budget.
  • Racial disparities in the impact and experience of homelessness remain clear. For example: while African-Americans make up only 12% of the U.S. population, the PIT data estimates that more than 40% of the people experiencing homelessness are African-American; and while Native Americans make up 1.2% of the general population, they represented an estimated 2.7% of the people counted in the PIT data, despite the fact that very few tribal communities are included within PIT counts.
  • There are significant geographic differences in the trends seen within the data. The PIT data from 33 states and the District of Columbia indicated that homelessness had declined between 2014 and 2015, while the data from 17 states indicated increases. CoCs from major cities reported a 3% increase in homelessness between 2014 and 2015, driven by increases reported in New York City and Los Angeles, and including an 11% increase in the number of people reported as living in unsheltered locations. At the same time, we know that 17 communities and the state of Virginia have been confirmed by VA, HUD, and USICH as having effectively ended Veteran homelessness using the Federal criteria and benchmarks.
  • Housing affordability remains one of the most significant challenges to achieving our goals. Taken together, this data shows that communities are making significant progress in reducing homelessness, especially unsheltered homelessness, but there are still many people staying in unstable housing situations. The findings from the Family Options Study earlier this year provided powerful evidence of the impact of access to affordable housing on ending family homelessness. We need to do everything we can to expand access to housing affordable to families who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness, including removing local barriers that limit the creation of affordable housing options in the private market, prioritizing people experiencing homelessness for mainstream affordable housing resources, and investing to affordable housing opportunities across all levels of government.

Responding to Data at the Local Level

All of these different data sources can and should be used at the community level to drive local planning and action, to strengthen the systems we need to end people’s homelessness, and to address broader housing needs.

We know that officials in some communities that have been experiencing increases in their estimates of homelessness have felt spurred to declare states of emergency in order to try to respond with greater flexibility and to help drive greater progress toward ending homelessness. When there are thousands of people experiencing homelessness, many of them unsheltered, sleeping on our streets, in our parks, with literally not even a roof over their heads, that is a crisis that deserves our urgent attention and action.

As we consider this data, both locally and nationally, we need to make sure that we respond with the solutions that we know will work — Housing First approaches, providing rapid connections to affordable housing and permanent supportive housing, partnering those housing interventions with the right level and kinds of services for each individual and family. And we need to make sure that we take those solutions to the scale needed in each community.

At USICH, we’re committed to working with the communities across the country to understand the meaning and implications they are drawing from this data, to use this data to continue to assess and recalibrate their efforts, and to help shape strategies that will ensure a focus on lasting solutions.

Read further insights on the data in Matthew’s detailed analysis.