HUD Must Improve Data Collection Methods to Ensure Accurate Homelessness Count, Audit Says
Estimates of the homeless population are likely undercounts.
The Housing and Urban Development Department needs to improve its data collection instructions and standards used for counting the homeless population, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.
HUD found homelessness in the United States grew each year from 2017 to 2019, but this number is likely an underestimate because the department is not ensuring quality in data collection methods, according to the GAO audit released Thursday.
The yearly homelessness estimate comes from point-in-time, or PI, counts, collected by local organizations that coordinate care for people experiencing homelessness, known as Continuums of Care, or CoCs. Accurate PIT data helps to ensure appropriate planning to address homelessness, and allows Congress to determine whether programs to address homelessness are effective. Estimates also guide allocation of HUD funding to community organizations.
“GAO found that HUD does not closely examine CoCs’ methodologies for collecting data to ensure they meet HUD’s standards,” the report reads. “HUD’s instructions to CoCs on probability sampling techniques to estimate homelessness were incomplete. Some CoC representatives also said that the assistance HUD provides on data collection does not always meet their needs.”
The report makes three recommendations. HUD should conduct quality checks on data collection methods, improve instructions for using probability sampling techniques in estimates and figure out how to best support CoCs in data collection, according to the report. The department concurred with all three recommendations.
GAO conducted the report on the request of Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., chair of the House Financial Services Committee. Waters requested the study in 2018 for the purpose of understanding why the U.S. homeless population has increased in recent years. The information regarding the deficient data collection methods only adds to the problem, because it means the U.S. doesn’t even have an accurate understanding of its scope.
“Unsurprisingly, but troubling enough, the study found that the homelessness crisis in this country is likely worse than current estimates, due to an undercount of youth, immigrants, families, people in rural and remote areas, and those experiencing unsheltered homelessness,” Waters said in a statement.”
“The U.S. is one of the richest, wealthiest, countries in the world, and it is shameful that so many across the nation, including in my city of Los Angeles, are living on the streets,” she added.