New homeless response system dashboards advance our understanding of system performance and equity

By Christina McHugh and Pear Moraras

While the annual Point-in-Time Count provides a snapshot of homelessness on a single night, we need a more consistent and reliable source of information to inform ongoing decision making. We now increasingly look to our Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data dashboards to understand trends in homelessness and how well our system is performing.

Learn about the expanded dashboards

Updated for 2020, our homelessness data dashboards have a new location on the Regional Homelessness Authority website. Expanded dashboards now offer new breakdowns and features to enhance our understanding of equity in both the experience of homelessness and our system’s performance.

Key findings from this year’s updates:

  • Like this year’s Point-in-Time Count, our monthly dashboard shows continued decreases in homelessness among veterans as well as youth and young adults.
  • Our system’s capacity has increased – we are serving more households each month, and our inventory of homeless housing units has grown. A new housing inventory dashboard shows our investments shifting towards more emergency shelter and permanent supportive housing, and away from transitional housing
  • Fewer households entering the system are newly homeless, while more are reengaging after inactivity or experiencing a new episode of homelessness.

We know homelessness disproportionately impacts people of color, and for this year’s updates we placed greater emphasis on understanding inequities. Our system performance dashboards now provide annual data on outcomes by race and ethnicity.

Key findings on the racial equity of the system:

  • There are five times as many American Indian and Alaska Native households served in the homeless response system as compared to the King County population. This is likely an undercount because of historical distrust sharing data or accessing government services.
  • While Black and African American households are more likely to leave the homeless response system to permanent housing, they are also more likely to return to homelessness compared to other racial groups.
  • Hispanic/Latino households have both the highest return rates in the system and the lowest exits to permanent housing.

Next Steps

We have more work to do to address systemic and structural racism that push members of our community into homelessness – trends now compounded by disproportionate vulnerabilities to COVID-19 and job losses. Monitoring our data dashboards will inform decisions about funding and service delivery as we work to build a better homeless response system and address the current public health crisis.

The dashboards do have limitations. They can only tell us about those we serve, not those we do not. Routine lags in reporting also mean that our data do not yet show impacts from the ongoing public health crisis. It is critical that we continue to find ways to reach out to those not yet connected to services and monitor impacts to need and capacity as result of COVID-19.