The Homeless Census and Survey of 2015

Applied Survey Research is currently in the data collection, analysis and reporting phase for the 2015 biennial Homeless Census and Survey effort. ASR has partnered with 9 counties throughout California to produce demographic profiles and basic assessments of homeless persons living in each county, as well as population estimates of certain subpopulations and detailed information regarding their personal experiences facing homelessness. In 2015, ASR partnered with Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Francisco, Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Sonoma, Marin, and Solano counties. This marks the first time we’ve partnered with Marin and Solano counties on their homeless census and survey, while it’s the ninth time that ASR has partnered with Santa Cruz County. It’s been an exciting time as ASR continues partnerships with familiar counties, while establishing new relationships as well.

The Homeless Census and Survey is based on a requirement of  the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that all counties (typically called a Continuum of Care) applying for  homeless funding from the federal government should conduct a count of all homeless persons living in their county. It takes place during odd-numbered years across the country during the last 10 days of January. ASR’s method for counting has been recognized by HUD as a best practices model and employs a strategy where a volunteer from the community is teamed up with an individual currently experiencing homelessness. It is our experience that placing a homeless, paid guide with the volunteer brings first-hand knowledge and expertise to the team, allowing them to better recognize homeless individuals and to better locate homeless individuals. During the census efforts in virtually all the counties, we consistently heard from volunteers that the presence of the guide allowed them to identify homeless individuals that they would never have identified on their own. We even heard this from outreach worker staff whose job is to interface with the homeless on a daily basis.

Once the count is completed, ASR follows up with a detailed survey in order to get more in depth information on the experience and circumstances of homeless individuals in each county. The survey includes questions about their regular nighttime accommodations, where they were located before becoming homeless, what kinds of services they use, and many other questions designed to increase the understanding of homelessness in that particular county. Just like the count, ASR uses paid homeless individuals to conduct surveys. Respondents receive a gift for taking the survey and the interviewer is compensated for their effort as well. Homeless guide participation in the census and survey provides temporary employment but also has been great for their self-esteem and engagement.

The Homeless Census and Survey of 2015 has been a great experience so far and, as the survey portion is wrapping up, we look forward to analyzing all the excellent data we’ve received.  While HUD can be quite strict in both homeless census methodology and data reporting requirements, there is room for community oriented questions and local outreach that is difficult to achieve through other sources. ASR hopes the data will inform and engage the community in developing local strategies that address the unique profiles that emerge. While there are many “best practice” solutions we can learn from, the best responses are those that address the unique characteristics and resources in our community. Data from the counts and the survey will be available to the public around late May or early June. It is our hope that our partner counties will be able to turn the information in these reports into positive change for the homeless individuals in their county.

A special thanks to any and all who participated in the counts throughout the Bay Area. We couldn’t have done it without you. 

If you have any questions about ASR’s homeless projects, please contact Peter Connery at 831-728-1356 or connery@appliedsurveyresearch.org