All of California’s 44 Continuums of Care Should Conduct an Unsheltered Point-in-Time (PIT) Count and Survey in January 2022 to Help Understand the Impact of the Pandemic on Homelessness

The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Unsheltered Homelessness
Needs to be Informed by 2022 State-wide, Regional, and
Local Unsheltered PIT Counts. 

HUD does not require CoCs to Conduct an Unsheltered Count
During the Last 10 Days of January in Even-Number Years 

16 of 23 Northern California CoCs; 3 of 8 Central California CoCs;
and 2 of 13 Southern California CoCs did not Conduct a 2020
Unsheltered PIT Count as Noted in Tables 3, 4, and 5 below

Table 1 below shows that 23 (53%) of California’s 44 CoCs conducted an unsheltered count in 2019 and 2020. Conversely, table also shows that 21 (47%) of California’s 44 CoCs did conduct an unsheltered count in 2019 but not in 2020.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires CoCs to conduct an unsheltered count during the last 10 days of January in odd-number years but not in even-number years.

In 2021, more than 80% or 37 of California’s 44 CoCs did not conduct an unsheltered count after receiving approval from HUD because of safety reasons related to the pandemic, also noted in Table 1 below. Among the remaining seven California CoCs, only two CoCs conducted an unsheltered count methodologically similar to unsheltered counts they have previously conducted. The other five CoCs modified their unsheltered count and either conducted a head-count or used their By-Name List and or HMIS to try to reflect their unsheltered population as accurately as possible.

Updated Unsheltered Count Results are Necessary to Help Understand the Impact of the Pandemic on Homelessness

If CoCs do not conduct an unsheltered count during an even-number year, the unsheltered count from the previous odd-number year is carried over by HUD and considered their unsheltered count for the following even-number year.

For example, as noted in Table 2, the 2020 unsheltered count totals for 21 California CoCs are exactly the same unsheltered count totals for 2019.

Consequently, it is unknown if the 21 California CoCs that did not conduct an unsheltered count in 2020 experienced an unsheltered count increase similar to the 23 California CoCs that conducted an unsheltered count in 2020. This year, not knowing the current state of unsheltered homelessness in California is further compounded because 80% or 37 of California’s 44 CoCs did not conduct a 2021 unsheltered count after receiving approval from HUD because of safety reasons related to the pandemic.

If too many California CoCs do not conduct an unsheltered count in 2022, California will be left with comparing 2019 unsheltered PIT count data to 2023 PIT unsheltered count data in the effort to understand the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on unsheltered homelessness.

Northern California

Most of the 21 California CoCs that did not conduct an unsheltered count in 2020 are located in Northern California. Sixteen (16) of the 23 CoCs located in Northern California did not conduct an unsheltered count in 2020 and historically have not conducted unsheltered counts in even-number years. Table 3 shows the Northern California CoCs that did, and CoCs that did not, conduct an unsheltered count in 2020.

Click here to see a map of California’s Continuums of Care.

Central California

Three (3) of the eight (8) Central California CoCs did not conduct an unsheltered count in 2020 and historically have not conducted unsheltered counts in even-number years. Table 4 shows the Central California CoCs that did, and CoCs that did not, conduct an unsheltered count in 2020.

Click here to see a map of California’s Continuums of Care.Southern California

Two (2) of the 13 Southern California CoCs did not conduct an unsheltered count in 2020 and historically have not conducted unsheltered counts in even-number years. Table 5 shows the Southern California CoCs that did, and CoCs that did not, conduct an unsheltered count in 2020.

Click here to see a map of California’s Continuums of Care.

Updated Unsheltered Count Results are Necessary to Help Understand the Impact of the Pandemic on Homeless Subpopulations

HUD requires that certain subpopulation data is also collected during unsheltered counts. Required subpopulations include:

  • Chronically homeless households;
  • Families;
  • Men;
  • Persons with HIV/AIDS;
  • Persons with Serious Mental Illness;
  • Persons with Substance Use Disorders;
  • Veterans;
  • Women;
  • Youth Age 18 – 24.

For example, Table 6 below, shows how the number of unsheltered veterans counted in 2019 is carried over into the 2020 unsheltered veteran count for 21 of California’s 23 CoCs.

Consequently, it is unknown if the 21 California CoCs that did not conduct an unsheltered count in 2020 experienced an unsheltered count increase in the total number of veterans counted similar to the 23 California CoCs that conducted an unsheltered count in 2020.

Not knowing the current state of unsheltered homelessness among veterans in California is further compounded because 80% or 37 of California’s 44 CoCs did not conduct a 2021 unsheltered count after receiving approval from HUD because of safety reasons related to the pandemic.

If too many California CoCs do not conduct an unsheltered count in 2022, California will be left with comparing 2019 unsheltered veteran PIT count data to 2023 unsheltered veteran PIT count data in an effort to understand the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on veterans and other subpopulations experiencing homelessness.

Survey Questions While Counting 

It is important to note that CoCs can, and many have, gathered information regarding other subpopulations and other pertinent information by asking survey questions while counting. Other subpopulation data has been gathered by asking age. Seniors age 62+ have been identified and further identified by gender, ethnicity, and race.

Local questions have been added to the survey by CoCs to gather such pertinent information as

  • Chronic health conditions;
  • Disabilities; and
  • Income status.

What Next

Homelessness in the coming Post-Pandemic World may be notably different from the Pre-Pandemic World.

The impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on unsheltered homelessness in California needs to be informed by state-wide, regional, and local 2022 unsheltered PIT Counts. Otherwise, California will be left with comparing 2019 PIT count data to 2023 PIT count data in an effort to understand the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on unsheltered homelessness.

It is important to note that PIT unsheltered count data has become important for California legislative, funding, planning, and policy purposes.

Past legislation that focused on solving homelessness has been influenced by PIT unsheltered count data concerning chronically homeless persons, families, persons with mental illness and substance use, veterans, and youth under age 18 and between the ages of 18 – 24.

In addition, the total numbers of unsheltered individuals and types of households have been used to prioritize eligible activities, subpopulations, and best, promising, and emerging practices within established legislation. The total numbers have also guided the allocation of the funding generated by the legislation.

The total number of PIT unsheltered persons has been used to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars through funding sources established by state legislation during the past few years to prevent and end homelessness. Thoughtful planning and policies were built into past Notice of Funding Availability (NOFAs) related to the allocated funds for the funding sources using PIT unsheltered count data.

Thus, all of California’s 44 CoCs should conduct an unsheltered PIT count and survey in January 2022, assuming it is safe to conduct one.

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