The Target Group: Chronically Homeless Adults
The plan did not involve a new federal funding initiative. Rather, federal agencies that typically addressed the problem of homelessness prioritized chronic homelessness in various funding opportunities for federal homelessness assistance provided by the McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, such as HUD’s Continuum of Care Program. The various branches of the federal government defined "chronic homelessness” as follows:
An unaccompanied homeless individual with a long-term and disabling condition (severe mental illness, substance use disorder, dual diagnosis, a chronic medical condition, or two or more conditions that restrict work or the activities of daily living) who has either (a) been continuously homeless for a year or more, or (b) has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.
Tracking Homelessness Nationwide: “Point-in-Time” Counts
Progress toward the goal of ending chronic homelessness has been measured with the annual “point-in-time” count of unsheltered and sheltered homeless people, mandated by Congress in 2001, and implemented in 2005 (Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress). The point-in-time counts utilize data from the HUD Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) which collects client-level data and data on the provision of housing and services to sheltered homeless individuals. Coupled with a one-night count of unsheltered people in the streets and public places, the HMIS data and street counts provide the best estimate of the annual prevalence of homelessness nationwide (USDHUD, 2015). Occurring on a night during the last week of January, the point-in-time count is carried out by the local planning groups responsible for coordinating homeless services in a specific geographic area. The count involves classifying homeless people in various ways, such as whether the individual is homeless alone or a member of a family, is a veteran, or was staying in a street or a shelter location. Although there is a fairly specific definition of chronic homelessness, there is no guarantee that all raters involved in the point-in-time counts have applied this definition in a consistent manner. The counts have been affected to some extent by definitional changes mandated by HUD regarding the disability requirement for defining chronic homelessness, and the reclassification of some shelter and transitional housing beds from homeless beds to rapid rehousing.
In addition, there is variability in how cities report year-to-year changes in the number of homeless people.