June 1, 2018
Every year, a point-in-time survey is conducted in Champaign County and around the country to count the number of individuals and households experiencing homelessness. This month on the blog, we’re taking a look at the results of the Champaign County 2018 point-in-time survey, some past trends from the same survey conducted in previous years, and what all of us can do to help.
What is the point-in-time survey? When does it take place? Who conducts the survey? What exactly does it measure?
The point-in-time survey is a study required by HUD, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, to establish the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in a given area, on a given day. In Champaign County, the survey is coordinated by the Champaign County Continuum of Care; the survey is required to be conducted during the last week of January each year.
The point-in-time survey measures exactly what it sounds like: the number of individuals and households experiencing homelessness, including some demographic and shelter information about them, on the day that the survey takes place. As a result, these statistics don’t reflect the entire year between the survey conducted and the next one: the data collected during the 2018 survey reflects the characteristics of homelessness in Champaign County on the survey date, January 25th, 2018, not for all of 2018. So when we discuss trends from year to year, it’s important to understand that we’re talking about change in the population of individuals experiencing homelessness between one survey date and the next, not from one full year to the next.
It’s also important to understand what circumstances the term “homelessness” includes. There are four categories identified by HUD that cover this term: individuals who are “literally homeless,” meaning that they lack overnight shelter; individuals who have an immediate risk of becoming literally homeless; individuals that qualify as homeless under other federal laws and definitions; and individuals fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence,.
All data presented and discussed below is sourced from the Champaign County January 25th, 2018 point-in-time survey, or from Champaign County point-in-time surveys from previous years.
What were the results of the 2018 point-in-time count?
According to the 2018 point-in-time survey, there were 188 individuals across 140 households experiencing homelessness in Champaign County on the survey date. Both children and young adults were found experiencing homelessness: this total number includes 45 children (under 18) and 15 young adults (aged 18-24). The remaining 128 individuals were over the age of 24. Of the 188 surveyed individuals, 72 were female and 116 were male. Nine individuals identified themselves as chronically homeless. (Chronic homelessness is defined by HUD as being a homeless individual with a disability and having been continuously homeless for a year or more or having had at least four occasions of homelessness in the last three years, with these combined occasions equaling at least 12 months.)
The point-in-time survey showed substantial racial inequity in homelessness in Champaign County: of the 188 individuals experiencing homelessness, 107 were black or African American, while 73 were white. Eight individuals reported being of two or more races, and one individual was of Hispanic or Latino origin.
The point-in-time survey also provides information on household composition. Most households – 118 out of 140 – were made up only of adults, and accounted for 119 of 188 surveyed individuals. Two households, accounting for two individuals, were made up only of children. Twenty households were made up of one or more adults and one or more children, and accounted for 67 people.
Shelter information is included in the survey as well: whether each individual was unsheltered at the time of the survey, was in an emergency shelter, or was in a transitional shelter. At the time of the survey, 83 households accounting for 109 individuals were in an emergency shelter, 48 households accounting for 70 individuals were in a transitional shelter, and nine households accounting for nine individuals were unsheltered.
Other information about the experience or background of individuals was also collected. Of the 188 individuals experiencing homelessness, seven were veterans, and 11 were unaccompanied youth (under the age of 24 and the only individual in their household). Twelve individuals responded as having a serious mental illness, 13 responded as having a substance use disorder, two responded as living with HIV/AIDS, and 42 self-identified as adult (over the age of 18) survivors of domestic violence. These traits are not mutually exclusive: the same individual may have responded as having more than one of the listed circumstances. This supplementary information demonstrates that homelessness does not exist in a vacuum, and can be compounded, accompanied, or exacerbated by other physical and mental health issues.
What has been the trend or trends emerging from this survey since 2012?
Although, as we discussed above, a point-in-time survey limits the ways we can think about year-to-year trends, some recognizable patterns emerge in the 2012-2018 timeframe. Over the course of these survey dates, the number of individuals experiencing homelessness fluctuated between 150 and 250, with peak years in 2013 and 2014 and low years in 2015 and 2017.
On the 2018 survey date, more individuals were recorded as experiencing homelessness than on the survey date in 2017, but the population was not as high as on the survey dates in 2013 and 2014.
How can this data be used? Does CCRPC have any other homeless services? And what can we do going forward?
Data from the point-in-time survey, here in Champaign County and elsewhere, has a variety of applications. It can serve as input data for projects like housing needs assessments or other studies, to determine the extent of the problem of homelessness in an area and the demand for housing, programs, and services. Like any annual data point, it can demonstrate whether the problem is becoming worse or better, and can therefore be used to monitor the effectiveness of existing or newly implemented programs and services. The physical and mental health dimensions of the dataset also make it useful for projects and studies in the field of public health.
In addition to being a part of the Champaign County Continuum of Care, CCRPC offers programs and services geared toward assisting homeless individuals and preventing homelessness, including a Centralized Intake access point, an Emergency Shelter for Families program, a Homeless Prevention Rent Assistance Program, and Rapid Re-Housing and Shelter Plus Care programs. More information on these programs can be found at CCRPC’s Homeless Services webpage.
Although there were fewer individuals experiencing homelessness in Champaign County on the 2018 survey date than on the 2013 and 2014 survey dates, homelessness is still a serious problem both here in the county and nationally. Housing, homelessness, and equity are all issues that the planning field, and many other fields, can and should address.
So what can be done individually? What can be done institutionally?
On an individual level, people can support nonprofits and charitable organizations that promote housing security, either by making monetary donations or volunteering their time. These organizations can be local, regional, or national, and missions and organizational structures can vary widely. If you’re interested in contributing your time or money, it’s often helpful to do some research first, then select the organization whose mission and structure you like best.
Institutionally, public, private, and nonprofit agencies can forge partnerships to continue measurement programs like the point-in-time survey, seek grant funding, and develop and operate programs and services that address homelessness, housing insecurity, systemic inequities, and other issues.
 HUD. “Homeless Definition.” (n.d.) <https://www.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/HomelessDefEligibility%20_SHP_SPC_ESG.pdf.> Accessed 1 June 2018.
 “Homelessness Assistance.” HUD. (n.d.) <https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/comm_planning/homeless.> Accessed 1 June 2018.
 HUD Exchange. “What are the main differences between the previous definition of ‘chronically homeless’ and the definition included in the final rule?” FAQ ID 2750. (April 2016). <https://www.hudexchange.info/faqs/2750/what-are-the-main-differences-between-the-previous-definition-of/.> Accessed 1 June 2018.