In order to know whether efforts to end homelessness are successful it is important to know the baseline or starting point. Communities need to monitor and evaluate their progress – both successes and failures – so that they can report their outcomes to funders, tax payers and interested residents.
In another section, we talk about the 10 Year Plans to End Homelessness. These are the goal-setting tools to help guide activities for communities who want to end homelessness. The Report Cards, just like for children in school, grade the 10 Year Plans to determine whether they are achieving their stated targets.
There are three methods of determining how many people are homeless in a community: Shelter Inventory, Point-In-Time Counts and Prevalence Counts.
Shelter Inventories count the number of beds available in a shelter system (which may or may not include Violence Against Women shelters) and what percentage of these beds are occupied. This method does a good job at determining occupancy rates for a municipality and counts the number of sheltered homeless people but ignores those that are hidden homeless, living outside, or homeless in jails or hospitals.
Point-In-Time (PIT) Counts provide a “snapshot” of the number of people experiencing homelessness on a specific date (usually one day, occasionally up to a week) in a community. While in the United States these are mandated for every community that receives funds from Housing and Urban Development (HUD), they remain optional in Canada. Only a handful of communities conduct Point-In-Times counts currently. The Canadian Homelessness Research Network is undertaking research to determine an ideal methodology for PIT Counts with the goal of developing resources for communities.
Prevalence Counts provide an alternative to the PIT counts and are often used in some small and rural communities. They determine how many people were homeless over a set period in time. For example, a March 2013 Ipsos Reid survey found that 1.3 million people had experienced homelessness over the previous 5 year period. Understanding the broad reach of homelessness is particularly important given that 29% of people who experience homelessness in Canada use a shelter for only one night. If the Point-In-Time count doesn’t occur on that specific day they aren’t included in the statistics.