HUD releases new Point-in-Time count of homelessness

By Julie Dworkin, Director of Policy

HUD released its annual Point-in-Time count today announcing that homelessness has increased nationally for the first time since 2010. Although Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) does not doubt that homelessness on the rise, we have always had serious concerns about the validity of the Point-in-Time count as an accurate reflection of trends in homelessness from year to year.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty echoes these concerns in a report, also released today, “Don’t Count On It: How the HUD Point-In-Time Count Underestimates the Homelessness Crisis in America.” Among concerns cited in the report are the fact that one-night counts do not capture the transitory nature of homelessness, that people sleeping outside are often hidden from plain view, and that the Point-in-Time does not count people who are doubled-up with relatives or friends, or staying in jails or hospitals on the night of the count.

CCH completed its own estimate of homelessnsss in Chicago this year using census data that addresses many of the concerns in the report. It is an annual count, it uses extrapolation techniques to capture people that are not directly counted, and it includes doubled-up households not in the shelter system. An updated CCH count will be released early next year.

In addition to general concerns about the Point-in-Time methodology, CCH is particularly concerned about HUD’s reporting that homelessness decreased by 6.8% in Illinois. Illinois’ shelter system was decimated by two years without state funding. Numerous surveys of homeless service providers found that significant cutbacks in staff forced agencies to reduce services and reduce how many people they could serve. In fact, reports from the Illinois Department of Human Services show that state-funded homeless service providers served 13% fewer people in FY2016 than in FY2014. Since the Point-in-Time relies largely on a count of those staying in shelters, this reduction in services must be accounted for when analyzing the results of the count. Until HUD recognizes the flaws in its Point-in-Time count, we will continue to struggle to have an accurate count of those experiencing homelessness nationwide.

SEE ALSO the Chicago Sun-Times, columnist Mark Brown: Report says homeless counts miss the mark