The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) can do a better job at estimating the level of homelessness in U.S. communities by better leveraging data, a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report has found.
HUD relies on local communities to provide their counts for how many people are experiencing homelessness on a single night. According to GAO, HUD has supplemented one source of data – in-person counting – by allowing local communities to also use data collected by public and nonprofit agencies during the pandemic.
Since HUD uses a “point-in-time” (PIT) count to gauge the homelessness totals, GAO said that using data from public and nonprofit agencies will likely improve the agency’s own point-in-time counts. Thus, GAO is recommending that HUD provide communities with more information on how to best use data to improve PIT counts going forward.
“The [PIT] count is a nationwide count of people experiencing homelessness on a single night, conducted by Continuums of Care (CoC) – local planning bodies that coordinate homelessness services,” wrote GAO. “However, HUD does not provide CoCs with examples of how to extract and use administrative data for the unsheltered count.”
GAO recommended that HUD provide CoCs with additional information on how they can use administrative data to improve the accuracy of their unsheltered PIT count, and HUD agreed with that recommendation.
In preparing its report, GAO surveyed 41 CoCs and obtained information on funding sources and key resources required from their most recent unsheltered PIT count before 2021, including:
- 31 of 41 CoCs used HUD funds, 19 used state or local funds, and 10 used private donations;
- All 41 CoCs used volunteers to complete their PIT counts; and
- Respondents reported an average of 4.8 work hours for every person counted in their PIT count of unsheltered individuals.