The Homeless: Who and How Many?

The Homeless: Who and How Many?

Barbara Armstrong and Sharon Chamard

Armstrong, Barbara; & Chamard, Sharon. (2014). "The Homeless: Who and How Many?" Alaska Justice Forum 31(1-2): 2-11 (Spring/Summer 2014). Across the nation in both rural and urban areas, public and private agencies work to provide services for homeless people. One of the biggest challenges is collecting data about homeless individuals: how many people are homeless, who they are, what services they need most, and how long they have been homeless. This article looks at reports from 2012, 2013, and 2014 on estimates of homelessness in the U.S. and Alaska, the subpopulations of homeless individuals, and the various definitions of homelessness.

Links to publications mentioned in this article last verified 18 Aug 2016.

Across the nation in both rural and urban areas, public and private agencies work to provide services for homeless people. One of the biggest challenges is collecting data about homeless individuals: how many people are homeless, who they are, what services they need most, and how long they have been homeless. Funding for agencies and eligibility determination for homeless services are based on these kinds of data. The most recent national point-in-time (PIT) count published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) shows that on one night in January 2013, there were an estimated 610,042 homeless persons in the U.S.: 394,698 were in shelters and 215,344 were in unsheltered locations. (See Figure 1.) The PIT count is a HUD national mandate and occurs in every state on a single night in the last part of January of each year. The 2013 PIT count of homeless persons in Alaska was 1,946 individuals-with 1,741 persons in shelters and 205 in unsheltered places. (See Table 1.) The PIT count, however, is only one measure of homelessness.

This article looks at reports from 2012, 2013, and 2014 on estimates of homelessness in the U.S. and Alaska, the subpopulations of homeless individuals, and the various definitions of homelessness.

Figure 1. Homeless Populations and Subpopulations in the U.S., 2013
Table 1. Homelessness Point in Time Count, Anchorage and Balance of State, 2013-2014

Definitions of Homelessness

Any discussion of homelessness and homelessness statistics needs to include a reference to the various definitions of homelessness that agencies use.

The housing status of an individual is referred to as domiciled (living in a permanent, stable location) and undomiciled (living in a temporary location or not residing at any given location). Other key factors in the definition of homelessness include a description of the type of location in which an individual is residing, length of stay in a location, and number of moves in a given time period, as well as the risk of becoming homeless due to imminent eviction. (For more detail, see "Definitions of Homelessness" on page 4 in this issue.)

HUD's definition, which is used to calculate funding for housing and services and determine eligibility, is more restrictive than those used by other agencies. HUD does not consider a person homeless, for example, if the individual is staying with friends or family-a living situation often referred to as doubling up-or if an individual is staying at a hotel/motel. From HUD's perspective, these individuals fall under the category of domiciled, even though they may be only temporarily staying with friends or family or at a hotel or motel. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has a more inclusive definition it uses to assess the eligibility of an individual for health services. DHHS, as well as the U.S. Department of Education which provides funding to school districts to serve homeless students, include doubling up in their homeless definitions.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and co-sponsors Senator Mark Begich (AK-D) and Senator Rob Portman (OH-R) introduced a bill, the Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2014 (S.2653), on July 24, 2014, which addresses the issue of the definition of homelessness. The bill would include living in a hotel/motel and living doubled up with family and friends as part of an expanded HUD definition of homelessness. This change in the definition would make it possible for a much larger number of homeless children and youth to be eligible for federal services.

Who Counts the Homeless?

Several agencies conduct counts of homeless populations across the U.S., which vary in the types of data on homeless populations and subpopulations that are collected and the timing of the enumeration. HUD's annual PIT count in January, presented in the The 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, Part 1: Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness, provides an estimate of the number of homeless persons and of the subpopulations of the homeless on one night. The count includes people in shelters as well as individuals living on the street. HUD also collects data throughout the federal fiscal year (October 1-September 30) on homeless persons in shelters only and incorporates both one-night PIT counts and one-year estimates data in the second volume of its annual report, The 2012 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, Volume II: Estimates of Homelessness in the United States. The second volume contains demographic details not found in Part 1.

The 2012 HUD detailed report for sheltered homeless persons, the most recent report available (at the time of this writing), estimates that 1.48 million people were in shelters at some time that year. Although the majority of individuals in shelters are single males, in 2012 there were also 167,854 families in homeless shelters comprising 535,420 people. Homeless families were 36 percent of the 2012 total homeless population. (Data not shown.) National HUD figures show that homelessness in the nation declined from 2012 to 2013 by 3.7 percent while homelessness in Alaska during that same period rose 1.7 percent (Table 2).

Table 2. Change in Homeless Populations and Subpopulations in Alaska and the U.S., 2012-2013

Counts of homeless persons are also collected at outreach events such as Project Homeless Connect (PHC). This one-day event provides service information to homeless persons and is designed to match services to their needs. Project Homeless Connect originated in San Francisco in 2004 and has since been offered in over 260 cities nationwide. It is offered in several communities in Alaska and was first held in Anchorage in July 2007. Individuals who are experiencing homelessness attend the event and are asked to provide information to help assess their needs. They then can be matched with service providers for housing, health, and employment. Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kenai, Mat-Su, and Sitka have all coordinated PHC events; most communities host the event on the day of the HUD annual PIT count at the end of January. The Project Homeless Connect counts are of those individuals who voluntarily come to the event, and reflect only a fraction of the homeless population in any community.

The U.S. Census also counts homeless individuals in emergency and transitional shelters. The 2010 report from the U.S. Census, The Emergency and Transitional Shelter Population: 2010, showed a total homeless population of 209,325 persons nationwide, and 1,246 homeless individuals in Alaska, in emergency and transitional shelters (Table 3). The census enumerators conducted their count over three days in March 2010 at emergency and transitional shelters, soup kitchens and mobile food vans, and non-sheltered outdoor locations. The census report is limited in scope and presents only data on the subpopulation of the homeless in emergency and transitional shelters.

Table 3. Demographic Characteristics of Emergency and Transitional Shelter Population in Alaska and the U.S., 2010 Census

How Data are Reported

Data on homeless persons are reported to HUD, which analyzes the information and then publishes annual reports. Data collected in Alaska on homeless persons are sent to the Alaska Homeless Management Information System (AKHMIS), which is currently administered by the Municipality of Anchorage for the entire state. AKHMIS then reports these data to HUD. The data are reported under the Continuum of Care (CoC) program-part of HUD's efforts to encourage community participation in ending homelessness. A Continuum of Care is a local group responsible for coordinating the delivery of services to the homeless population. Alaska has one Continuum of Care entity located in Anchorage and a second Continuum of Care that is responsible for the remainder of the state-referred to as "Balance of State (BoS)." Data for both Anchorage and the remainder of the state are reported to AKHMIS. Information about homeless persons for the Balance of State (BoS) is not broken out by city or region, but is reported to HUD as an aggregate figure. In Alaska, over 30 providers of services for the homeless use the Alaska Homeless Management Information System (AKHMIS) to report data on clients they serve statewide.

Estimates of overall homeless numbers only tell part of the story. The U.S. Census takes place every ten years and counts only people in emergency and transitional shelters. The PIT count is a snapshot of homelessness on only one night, while the data collected by HUD about the homeless over a one-year period reflects individuals in shelters and is combined with PIT count data in the second volume of HUD's AHAR report. The reality is that people experience different types of homelessness-such as sleeping on the street, at a hotel/motel, or doubling up with friends or family-at different times and for varying durations. The numbers are constantly shifting and are impacted by definitions of homelessness and who is conducting the count.

How Many People are Homeless?

The answer to this question depends on the definition of homelessness used, which agency's data is used, and how the data are organized. For example, according to the HUD PIT count, there were 610,042 homeless persons-sheltered and unsheltered-in the U.S. on one night in January 2013. HUD's Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data, on the other hand, reflect unduplicated counts of homeless persons who were in a shelter at some point during the 2012 federal fiscal year-a total of 1.48 million persons.

The PIT counts reported by HUD look at sheltered and unsheltered on a single night in January, including those in some type of temporary housing or shelter, and those living in "places not meant for human habitation," e.g., a car, van, or homeless encampment. The second volume of HUD's AHAR report provides the most detailed information, including demographic data on homeless persons and the variety of subpopulations such as single individuals, families with children, veterans, minorities, unaccompanied youth, the chronically homeless, persons with HIV-AIDS, individuals experiencing chronic substance abuse or serious mental illness, and victims fleeing domestic violence. The Project Homeless Connect counts reflect only those homeless individuals who choose to and are able to attend the event. The U.S. Census numbers are an additional measure to track the number of homeless persons living in emergency and transitional housing, but this enumeration only occurs every 10 years.

The Homeless in Prisons and Jails

A less obvious population of homeless are those many individuals in prisons or jails who were homeless immediately before incarceration, and who are often homeless or at risk of homelessness following release. Counts of the homeless do not include persons who are incarcerated. A 2008 study, "Homelessness in the State and Federal Prison Population," looked at 17,567 imprisoned adult individuals (age 17 and older) and found that nine percent were homeless in the year prior to their arrest. This survey group had a rate of recent homelessness four to six times greater than the general population, and were at high risk for experiencing homelessness after release from prison.

A 2011 article, "Risk Factors and the Duration of Homelessness among Drug-Using Arrestees: Evidence from 30 American Counties," was one of the first pieces of research to look at the rate of homelessness among individuals in jails. The study looked at a sample of 30,634 drug-using adults who had been arrested during 2002-2003 and were in local jails around the country. The arrestees were asked about their residential status for each month of the year prior to their arrest. More than half of the arrestees who had reported being homeless for at least part of the preceding year were homeless at the time of arrest, and 9.7 percent of the total sample population reported that they had been homeless for 15 days of the month immediately prior to their arrest. The researchers used this data and HUD homeless estimates for the general population to calculate an estimated homelessness rate for this group-it was 20 times the homelessness rate for the general population.

Other studies have reported similar findings regarding pre-incarceration and post-release homelessness among incarcerated individuals. Clearly, persons in both jail and prison have high homelessness rates, but the homelessness rate for arrestees in jails is significantly higher. However, these homelessness figures are not found in PIT counts or Project Homeless Connect counts. Given these high rates of homelessness among incarcerated persons, prison population figures and jail population numbers in particular are important factors to consider when looking at estimates of homelessness. And the prison population figures are high. The U.S. Census in 2010 reported 2,263,602 persons in adult correctional facilities, and 151,315 persons in juvenile facilities. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) bulletin, Correctional Populations in the United States, 2012, reported a total jail and prison adult population of 2,228,400 persons. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) bulletin, Juvenile Residential Facility Census, 2010: Selected Findings, notes 66,322 youth were in residential facilities that year. In Alaska, the Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) administers a unified correctional system that includes all jails and prisons. According to the DOC Offender Profiles, in 2002 the total Alaska offender population in all facilities was 4,599. In 2013, the total offender population was 6,256-an increase of 36 percent over the period. The Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) website (http://dhss.alaska.gov/djj/Pages/FacilityCapacity.aspx) shows that in 2003 there were 298 youth in DJJ facilities and in 2013 269 youth-a 9.7 percent decline in the number of youth in DJJ facilities.

HUD Counts

The 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress published by HUD provides details about and numbers of homeless individuals by state, by homeless subpopulation, and by type of reporting agency. All 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, report their data to HUD for compilation and analysis. Using data from the 2013 HUD report, the National Alliance to End Homelessness noted in The State of Homelessness in America 2014 that the U.S homelessness rate was 19 homeless persons per 10,000 residents in 2013. Alaska, with a rate of 26.5 homeless persons per 10,000 residents, ranked ninth highest among the states in 2013. (See Table 4.)

Table 4. States with Highest Rates of Homelessness, 2013

Who Are the Homeless?

Following are some of the key findings from the HUD reports for 2012 and 2013.

Of the 610,042 homeless persons (both sheltered and unsheltered) in the U.S. on one night in January 2013:

  • 64% were individuals (387,845).
  • 36% were people in families (222,197).
  • 23% were under the age of 18 (138,149).
  • 10% were 18-24 years old (61,541).
  • 8% were unaccompanied children and youth (46,924).
  • 35% were living in unsheltered locations (215,344).
  • 18% were chronically homeless (109,132).
  • About 12% of all homeless adults were veterans (58,063).
  • 22% had a chronic substance abuse problem (133,230).
  • 20% suffered from a severe mental illness (124,152).
  • 10% were victims of domestic violence (63,836).
  • 4 states-California, New York, Florida, Texas-had over 50% of the nation's homeless population.

In 2012, unduplicated counts of the 1.48 million individuals nationwide who were in an emergency shelter at some point during that year show (Table 5):

  • Nearly 63% were male and about 37% were female. These proportions have remained stable over the last several years.
  • 63% were individuals.
  • 23% were under the age of 18.
  • Over half the people in homeless people shelters were between the ages of 31 and 61.
  • About 61% belonged to a minority group.
  • Almost 40% of the homeless in shelters were Black or African American, although this minority represented about 13% of the general population in 2012.
  • 70% of homeless persons in shelters were in major metropolitan areas.
Table 5. Demographic Characteristics of Sheltered Homeless People in the U.S., 2012

PIT Counts in Alaska

The Alaska PIT counts are reported for two Continuums of Care as noted above: Anchorage and Balance of State. In 2014, there were 1,785 homeless persons in Alaska on one night in January. Of this number, 971 were sheltered and 53 unsheltered in Anchorage, and 669 were sheltered and 92 unsheltered in all other communities in the state.

The 2014 PIT count data for Alaska do not give a breakdown by gender but do provide data on age. There has been a major focus since last year on collecting data on homeless youth who are among some of the most vulnerable homeless persons. The goal is to enhance services to this age group. In Anchorage in 2014, there were 188 homeless youth under age 18 (18%), 146 youth age 18-24 years of age (14%), and 690 persons over the age of 24 years (67%). For the Balance of State, there were 209 homeless youth under age 18 (27%), 56 youth age 18-24 years of age (7%), and 496 persons over the age of 24 years (65%). (Data not shown).

The 2014 PIT count for Anchorage's homeless population was 1,024. The following subpopulations were noted for Anchorage in that year:

  • 13% were persons with severe mental illness (131).
  • 22% were persons with chronic substance abuse (224).
  • .004% were persons with HIV/AIDS (5).
  • 28% were victims of domestic violence (29).
  • 9% were persons who are chronically homeless (94).

The 2014 PIT count for the Balance of State (all communities except Anchorage) was 761. The following subpopulations were noted for the Balance of State in that year:

  • 9% were persons with severe mental illness (65).
  • 10% were persons with chronic substance abuse (75).
  • .005% were persons with HIV/AIDS (4).
  • 0% were victims of domestic violence (0).
  • 11% were persons who are chronically homeless (83).

Project Homeless Connect in Alaska

Data on individuals who participate in one-day Project Homeless Connect events provide another kind of snapshot of homelessness in Alaska. Individuals come to a venue and are asked a series of demographic questions and also how long they have been homeless and the reason(s) for their homelessness. Representatives and services from numerous state and private agencies are on-site to assist the homeless. For a time, Anchorage hosted a twice-yearly Project Homeless Connect, but now hosts a single event in January that coincides with the timing of the national PIT count. In 2013, Fairbanks held several mini-events including one in January. Other communities hosting PHC events include Juneau, Kenai, Ketchikan, Mat-Su, and Sitka. Data from the PHC events that are held during the period for the national PIT count are included in the total HUD PIT count figures.

Preliminary data for the 2014 PHC is available (as of this writing) only for Anchorage. The Anchorage report shows that 709 homeless persons participated in the event. The majority were male (63%) and nearly 75 percent of the individuals were between the ages of 31 and 61 years of age.

Detailed data are available for the 2013 (and earlier) PHC events in Anchorage and statewide, and indicate that 730 homeless persons attended PHC Anchorage and 598 participated in PHC events in all other communities (Fairbanks, Juneau, Kenai, Mat-Su, and Sitka) totaling 1,328 in 2013.

Table 6 shows the demographic characteristics of the January 2013 PHC participants for Anchorage and all other communities. (See the web supplement for a breakdown by city.) Over half of the participants were male (58%) and over half were Alaska Native or American Indian. About one-third of the participants were white. Over half were between the ages of 41 and 61 years, and about 27 percent were between the ages of 22 and 40 years.

Participants were asked what the primary reason was for becoming homeless (Table 7). Over one-third reported that an economic reason was the cause of their homelessness-including loss of job, illness/injury, rent/utility hike, cut in hours of work, and military discharge. Twenty percent of participants at the PHCs responded that a situational concern resulted in their homelessness, such as a substance abuse/mental health incident, dispute with relatives or roommate, or violation of lease/house rules. About 4 percent of the participants reported that domestic violence led to their homelessness, and 11 percent cited a life transition-such as moving here from another community, getting released from jail or prison, aging out of foster care/youth services, or getting released from a treatment center-as the cause of homelessness.

Participants were asked where they had slept the previous night (Table 8). The greatest percentage of people in each community were sheltered as follows: in Anchorage, 38 percent of participants slept in emergency shelter; in Fairbanks 33 percent stayed with friends; in Juneau 19 percent stayed with friends, while in Kenai and Mat-Su 23 percent stayed with friends; and in Sitka around 25 percent stayed with friends. Statewide, 23 percent of individuals stayed in an emergency shelter, 20 percent were with friends, and 12 percent stayed with family.

Duration of homelessness statewide for PHC participants lasted less than one year for about one-third of the individuals (Table 9). About seven percent reported a homeless period of one month or less, 17 percent were homeless for more than one month up to six months, and about 10 percent were homeless for more than six months to a year. However, 22 percent reported being homeless for more than three years.

Homeless Veterans

In 2010, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) initiated Opening Doors-described as "the nation's first-ever comprehensive plan to prevent and end homelessness"-with the target date of 2020 to meet all its goals. The goals outlined on the USICH website include "ending chronic homelessness and veteran homelessness by 2015, [and] ending homelessness for families, youth and children by 2020...." The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is engaged in these efforts to end veteran homelessness, and homeless veterans comprise one of the subpopulations which has been the focus of much study.

According to the VA, the total U.S. population of living veterans as of September 30, 2013 was 21,973,964. The 2013 PIT count reported that nationwide on a single night in January, 58,063 veterans were homeless-12 percent of all homeless adults in the U.S.

The 2014 PIT count for Alaska shows that homeless veterans comprised about five percent of all homeless persons-49 individuals in Anchorage and 40 in the remainder of the state (Table 10). However, Project Homeless Connect data from 2013 (the most recent data available as of this writing) reported 163 homeless veterans statewide-12 percent of the homeless population who participated in PHC events during the PIT count period (Table 11).

Table 10. Homeless Veterans Point in Time Count, Anchorage and Balance of State, January 2014
Table 11. Veterans Participating in Project Homeless Connect, January 2013

Homeless Students-K-12

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2001 allocates federal grants to public school districts to provide assistance to homeless children and their families so that children can attain success in school. Services to homeless students may include transportation to school, food and clothing assistance, tutoring, referral to social services, and other forms of aid that may be needed for the child to succeed in school. In Alaska, there were five school districts that received McKinney-Vento subgrants during the 2012-2013 school year: Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Kenai, and Mat-Su. The act also mandates that there be a local liaison in every school district in each state to assist with identifying and serving homeless students. Data from each school district in Alaska are reported to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. School districts are responsible for reporting any student identified as homeless at any point during the school year. Once students are identified as homeless, they continue to be eligible to receive services for the duration of the school year even if they move into stable housing. A child may move once or many times in a given year, and school districts' consistent provision of services helps maintain continuity for these students.

The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) reports that in the school year 2011-2012 there were 1,168,354 homeless students in the United States. In Alaska in in the school year 2012-2013, there were a total of 3,971 students who had been identified as homeless and were enrolled in public school. Of those students, 96 percent were in one of the five districts that received a McKinney-Vento subgrant. (See Table 12).

Figure 2 shows Alaska homeless students as a percentage of total enrollments in Alaska public schools for the school years from 2007-2008 through 2012-2013. Overall the numbers increased from school years 2007-2008 through 2011-2012, but dropped slightly from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013. Over the school years 2007-2008 through 2012-2013, homeless students represented around 3 to 4.5 percent of the total enrollment in each of the McKinney-Vento subgrant districts, and 0.5 percent or less in districts without a subgrant. However, the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development Homeless Education Coordinator considers it likely that the numbers reported are an underestimate.

Figure 2. Alaska Homeless Students as a Percentage of Overall Enrollment, 2007-2013

It is possible to calculate an estimate of the total number of persons in homeless families represented by the number of homeless students reported to the Alaska Department of Education. Statisticians use an average of three persons per homeless family: one adult and two children. Using this formula and the number of homeless children in Alaska in the school year 2012-2013, the estimated number of persons in homeless families with children in Alaska was 5,956 during that period.

Homeless Unaccompanied Youth

HUD estimates that there were 46,294 homeless unaccompanied youth in the U.S. in 2013-these are individuals age 24 and under. There has been an increased concern about collecting data on youth in the homeless population particularly because these individuals are considered very vulnerable. Many youth have aged out of foster care or have been released from juvenile facilities and have no place to go.

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness has pointed out the lack of reliable estimates on homeless unaccompanied youth. An earlier response to this concern was the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act of 2008 which called for the federal government to develop a reporting system for estimating the numbers of runaway and homeless youth and for providing appropriate services for these individuals. Funding under this act assists with delivering programs to these youth. In July of this year, U.S. Senate Bill 2646 was introduced which includes amendments to definitions of human trafficking, as well as a nondiscrimination clause regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.

In 2013, HUD mandated three additional categories of age groupings be added to homeless data collection: under 18 years of age, 18-24 years of age, and over 24 years of age. The inclusion of these data fields will assist in gathering more detailed information on the number of homeless youth. Homeless youth do not often identify themselves as "homeless"-even if they have no stable living situation. They consider themselves to be "couch surfing" or "hanging out." Unaccompanied youth are often underreported and some areas of the country have been exploring the use of age peers to assist with data collection of this subpopulation.

Homeless Households in Anchorage

In addition to data on the number of persons who are homeless, the PIT count also collects statistics on the number of households that are homeless. In this article the main focus is on homeless persons. However, Table 13 presents trends in homeless households for Anchorage for the period 2008-2014. Although the number of persons in homeless households with dependent children has declined 12.5 percent over the period, the overall number of homeless households has increased by 8.4 percent and the total number of persons in homeless households has increased 0.1 percent.

Conclusion

According to HUD PIT counts, overall numbers of homeless persons (sheltered and unsheltered) dropped 3.7 percent from 2012 to 2013 in the U.S., while Alaska showed an increase of 1.7 percent. Many subpopulations of homeless persons also decreased nationwide and in Alaska during this period. However, while the number of unsheltered homeless individuals declined nationwide by 11.6 percent, in Alaska, the number of unsheltered homeless persons increased 4 percent-going from 197 in 2012 to 205 in 2013. (Data not shown.)

Agencies in the state and around the nation are working on plans to end homelessness. Statewide, the Alaska Council on the Homeless was established in 2004 and issued its first report in 2005 and a 10 Year Plan to End Long Term Homelessness in Alaska in 2009. The Council is currently reviewing its plan and will complete the process by spring 2015. The Municipality of Anchorage first developed a ten-year plan to end homelessness in 2005. The plan has undergone review and revision, the most current of which is this year's review by the Housing and Neighborhood Development (HAND) Commission Oversight Subcommittee on Homelessness (HCOSH). The Municipality of Anchorage Ten-Year Plan on Homelessness: Status Update was submitted in May 2014. The Municipality of Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services, the HAND Commission, HCOSH, and the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness all contributed to this effort. All of the above agencies are currently developing plans for the next five years.

Gathering reliable data on homeless persons continues to be a challenge. Because of different release dates of data, it is not always easy to make comparisons of same-year data. In some cases, data fields and descriptions may differ making direct comparison problematic. And definitions of homelessness do not always align with each other.

In Alaska, the Continuums of Care are working with agencies to improve the quality of data that is reported to the AKHMIS. AKHMIS recently hosted training for agencies and is reviewing an evaluation of its current procedures for data collection. The goal is to streamline the data process and make data more useful at the community level. The evaluation highlighted the need for greater reporting by geographic location. As noted above, Alaska currently has only two Continuums of Care-one for Anchorage and one that covers that rest of the state. It has been suggested that given the regional variations in a state the size of Alaska, having more regional CoCs could improve data collection and the identification of needs in particular communities. However, CoCs operate under HUD regulations, and there is concern that other communities in Alaska may not have the resources to meet HUD requirements to operate as a CoC. The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness also established a data group this spring to assist in reviewing data and identifying gaps in data collection and sources.

Public and private agencies in the United States and Alaska continue to work together to end homelessness. Identifying who is homeless and what the needs are of homeless individuals and families remain critical elements of that goal. Trained data collectors and researchers are integral to this process. Effective allocation of resources, policymaking, and implementation of programs depend on reliable information about the homeless persons in our communities.

Barbara Armstrong is the editor of the Alaska Justice Forum. Sharon Chamard is a member of the Justice Center faculty. Derek Witte, Justice major, assisted in the compilation of point-in-time (PIT) counts data for Anchorage.


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