Performance Measurement and Evaluation Unit Releases Brief on Impacts of COVID-19 on the Homeless Response System in 2020

DCHS’s Performance Measurement & Evaluation (PME) unit is launching the first in a series of quarterly data briefs highlighting housing and homelessness data trends. For the Q1 2021 release, the Data Review explores the impacts of COVID-19 on the King County Homeless Response System. 

For several years, DCHS has used public data dashboards to provide information on the homeless response system and its performance towards making homelessness in our community rare, brief, and nonrecurring. In 2019, DCHS developed a novel methodology using Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data to define household episodes of homelessness and track the flow of households entering and exiting the system over time. This new approach to measuring system dynamics has helped DCHS understand the impacts of COVID-19 on the homeless response system while also informing our pandemic response and future housing strategies. 

Shortly after King County confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on February 26, 2020, local and state officials issued orders prohibiting large gatherings to mitigate spread. Subsequently, the number of households being served by the homeless response system began to decline. PME conducted a deep-dive into the County’s HMIS data using our inflow-outflow methodology and dashboards to understand the drivers of this decline and broader system impacts of COVID-19. Findings suggest a complex relationship between how the pandemic changed system inflow, outflow, lengths of stays, utilization, and bed capacity.  

Key takeaways include:  

  1. While both entries and exits in the homeless response system fell during the first ten months of the pandemic, entries fell by more. Fewer households entered the system than exited it, leading to a decline in the overall number of households active in the system. 
  1. Entries into the system slowed largely driven by fewer households enrolling in and using services in emergency overnight and day shelters.  
  1. Households are staying enrolled in emergency shelter, transitional housing, and rapid rehousing program longer thereby limiting the system’s capacity to bring on new households over time. 

Read more in the brief on the King County Regional Homelessness Authority website: The Housing and Homelessness PME team will be presenting the results of this analysis at the National Human Services Data Consortium on April 29, 2021.