Child and youth integrated homelessness data report: Part 1

Social Well-Being
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Courtney LaCaria
A close up of three linked metal chains.

Housing instability and homelessness has negative short-term and long-term impacts on children and youth experiencing homelessness. Immediate effects include increased absences from school; lower scores on reading and math End of Grade tests; and greater risks of dropping out of high school. As children and youth age into adults, long-term effects can also impact mental and/or emotional health; employability; and housing sustainability.

There are thousands of children and youth in households every year in Charlotte-Mecklenburg that access housing or housing-related services as a result of their experience of homelessness and/or housing instability. However, these services and the data collected by them, are not linked. This means that describing child and youth homelessness using one data source provides only a sliver of the overall picture. Using multiple data sources can be helpful, but if these sources are not linked, they merely line up uneven comparisons.

Today, Mecklenburg County Community Support Services releases The Child & Youth Homelessness Integrated Data Report, which integrates data from multiple sources to describe child and youth homelessness and service utilization patterns in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The five-part report explores gaps and connections across multiple homeless assistance services that impact children and youth in the community. Data from 2016 to 2017 is used from the following sources: Homeless Management Information System (HMIS); Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS); and Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS).

(Read the full report here)

The report was completed by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute; it is part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Instability & Homelessness Report Series, which is funded by Mecklenburg County Community Support Services.

This blog post is the first in a three part-series covering different aspects of the report. Part 1 in the series will focus on the context and construction of the report; Part 2 will provide an in-depth look at the key findings; and Part 3 will cover the “So, What” of the report, describing evidence based strategies to address child and youth homelessness and offering recommendations for next steps.

WHY AN INTEGRATED DATA REPORT

There are multiple data sources that are available to describe child and youth homelessness. The following three main sources are included in the report: HMIS data provides the number and characteristics of children and youth in emergency shelter and transitional housing; CMS provides the number of students in the school system who have been identified for McKinney-Vento services; and DSS contains service utilization data for households accessing Food & Nutrition Services, Child Protective Services and Foster Care.

Integrating the three data sources allows for a more comprehensive picture of child and youth homelessness. For example, analysis of the intersection and gap across the disparate data sources provide opportunities for new insight into service utilization patterns, otherwise impossible to see. In addition, analysis of intersections and gaps across data sources can illuminate areas for increased service coordination and collaboration.

The Child and Youth Homelessness Integrated Data Report builds upon the 2014-2015 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Family Homelessness Snapshot Report, an integrated data report focusing on family homelessness. The 2014-2015 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Family Homelessness Snapshot Report, which integrated CMS and HMIS data, revealed that 38% of CMS students residing in emergency shelter and/or transitional housing during the 2014-2015 school year were not identified for McKinney-Vento services for which they were eligible. The Child and Youth Homelessness Integrated Data Report expands the definition of children and youth to include all individuals under the age of 25; and also adds DSS utilization data as a third data source.

DESCRIBING CHILD & YOUTH HOMELESSNESS USING INTEGRATED DATA

How child and youth homelessness is defined impacts how the problem is described, and thus understood in a community. The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) defines child and youth homelessness as anyone under the age of 25 who resides in an emergency shelter and/or transitional housing facility; and/or in an unsheltered location (such as outside on the street or in a camp). The definition used by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) expands the HUD definition to include children and youth residing in hotels/motels; doubled up with family and/or friends; abandoned in hospitals; and/or awaiting foster care placement. The HUD definition is used for reports like the Point-in-Time Count whereas the ED definition is used for providing the total of homeless students identified under the McKinney-Vento program. The Child & Youth Homelessness Integrated Data Report uses both the HUD and ED definitions to provide as comprehensive a picture of child and youth homelessness as possible.

According to the new report, between August 1, 2016 and July 31, 2017, there were 2,936 children and youth accessing services through an HMIS agency. During the same period, CMS identified 4,114 students as eligible for McKinney-Vento services, the majority of which were not accessing services through an HMIS agency. Most of the population experiencing student homelessness are in doubled up living situations, which does not overlap with the population experiencing homelessness as HUD defines it. In total, using HMIS and CMS data, there was 6,558 children and youth experiencing homelessness and/or housing instability in Charlotte-Mecklenburg during the 2016 – 2017 academic year.

INTEGRATED DATA QUESTIONS & CONTENT

Parts 2 and 3 of the Child & Youth Homelessness Integrated Data Report feature key findings and analysis from linking the three data sources. Part 2 focuses on the integration of CMS and HMIS data; Part 3 integrates all three data sources: CMS, HMIS and DSS. In addition, Parts 2 and 3 address the following research questions:

  • Part 2: How many children and youth experienced homelessness, housing instability, or recent homelessness from 2016 to 2017?
  • Part 3: How many housing vulnerable children and youth were also connected to food and nutrition, child protection services, and foster care services?

The second blog post in this series will dive deeper into the key findings and analysis.

SO, WHAT

Using integrated data can help communities understand complex problems like housing instability and homelessness. Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP), which was established at the University of Pennsylvania in 2008, “focuses on the development and use of integrated data systems (IDS) for policy and planning.” AISP works with state and local governments to develop Integrated Data Systems (IDS) that link administrative data across government agencies. The Institute for Social Capital at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute is home to an integrated data base. In addition to the data contained in this report, other data sources include Inlivian, Carolinas Health Care System, Novant Health, and Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office.

In addition, using linked data can lead to better service delivery and improved outcomes.

Next week’s blog post will focus on the key findings from the new integrated data report and what it could mean for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.