Mecklenburg County Community Support Services recently released the Single Adult Homelessness Integrated Data (SAHID) Report. This is the first community report focused specifically on single adult homelessness. The report is part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Instability & Homelessness Report Series, which is funded by Mecklenburg County Community Support Services and completed by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute.
The SAHID report integrates four separate data sources to describe single adult homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. This includes characteristics of the population, as well as an overview of the types of relevant services and systems. Data was sourced from Crisis Assistance Ministry; Mecklenburg County’s Food and Nutrition Services (Department of Social Services); the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office; and the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS).
This blog post will provide an overview of the key findings from the report, and what it means for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
ABOUT THE REPORT
Single adults comprise the largest cohort of the population experiencing homelessness, both locally and nationally. According to FY2020 One Number data, single individuals comprise 70% (or 2,224 individuals) of the total population experiencing homelessness in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. And, just as homelessness is not a monolith, single adult homelessness is also multifaceted. The SAHID report organizes single adult homelessness into four categories: youth (age 18 to 24); adults (age 25 to 49); older adults (age 50 and older); and single adults of any age who are chronically homeless. The definition for chronically homeless is an individual who experiences homelessness for at least one year, and reports a disabling condition.
Providing the fullest possible picture of single adult homelessness means going beyond classification. Therefore, the report also describes the services and systems utilized by homeless single adults. Data for this portion of the SAHID report was pulled from the integrated data available through the Institute of Social Capital, which is part of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. Using the most recent data available, the report focuses on a population of over 11,000 single adults who experienced homelessness between January 2014 and December 2018.
The key findings outlined below are also highlighted in the SAHID report Executive Summary. These findings are for the duration identified above:
- Most single adults experiencing homelessness are Black or African American (75%) and male (62%). Black or African American single adults, particularly Black men, experience a higher rate of homelessness when compared to other races and ethnicities in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
- More than one-third (38%) of single adults experiencing homelessness are over the age of 50. Older homeless adults (age 50 or older) experience disabling conditions (typically associated with aging) at younger ages than peer group adults who are residing in permanent housing. Sixty-four percent of older homeless adults reported having a disabling condition. In addition, older homeless adults have lower life expectancies than the general population.
- Fifty-four percent of single adults experiencing homelessness report a disabling condition, compared with 10% of all adults in the Mecklenburg County general population. Disabling conditions were prevalent among single adults, whether their experience with homelessness was brief or chronic.
- Twenty percent of single adults who had experienced homelessness had accessed prevention assistance from Crisis Assistance Ministry either before or after their homeless episode. This pattern directly underscores the connection between housing instability and homelessness.
- Food and nutrition services help single adults experiencing homelessness to meet their daily basic needs. Sixty-three percent of single adults experiencing homelessness received Food and Nutrition grocery benefits for at least one month during the study period.
- Criminal records can be both a cause for, and a consequence of, homelessness. Criminal records can be used to keep some prospective renters who are currently homeless from being considered for a unit. This effectively reduces the number of housing options available to them, and potentially prolongs their episode of homelessness. In addition, the experience of homelessness can increase the likelihood an individual will be arrested for “lifestyle” crimes (also known as Local Ordinance Arrests) related to their homeless episode. Local Ordinance Arrests were most common among single adults who experienced chronic homelessness.
The final section of the SAHID report, “Connecting the Dots,” outlines several implications for Charlotte-Mecklenburg to consider. These include the fact that homelessness is not solely the result of any one person’s behavior or actions. Rather, homelessness persists largely due to systems and structures that preclude equal access to resources. The SAHID report highlights the impact of the growing rent-to-income gap, especially among low-income households; lack of available and affordable permanent housing; and discriminatory systems and practices.
The SAHID report also points out that single adults experiencing homelessness face additional barriers to both access and sustain housing that is currently available in the community. Of the 11,000 single adults experiencing homelessness, the SAHID report indicates that 17% (1,870) were arrested for a crime related to their homelessness. Such offenses, even if minor, can prevent an individual from being accepted as a prospective tenant. Finally, the SAHID report sheds light on the types of services that can help single adults struggling with housing instability or homelessness “make the math work,” so that they can both afford and sustain housing; these services include rent and utility assistance, and grocery benefits.
In addition, there are two other important takeaways for Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The first is to understand that most individuals in need of housing are single adults when crafting permanent, affordable housing solutions in the community. This does not mean that permanent, affordable housing for a single adult has to take the form of a 1-bedroom rental unit. In fact, housing organizations, including in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, have successfully paired single adults as roommates in 2-bedroom units. If done well, the outcome should not only result in a higher likelihood of housing sustainability (two incomes versus one), but also an expanded support network for both individuals. Secondly, single adults (as well as all individuals experiencing homelessness) need and use other non-housing services to access and sustain housing. These services provide a safety net along a tenuous journey, wrought with twists and turns.
Even after securing permanent, affordable housing, single individuals exiting homelessness do so burdened with a heavy load that takes some time to shed. Chronic health conditions may last a lifetime, impacting their ability to work. If healthy and employed, their income may not allow them to build savings. To address the needs of single adults experiencing homelessness, it is imperative that communities, like Charlotte-Mecklenburg, consider comprehensive, cross-sector solutions. These solutions can then be expanded to serve everyone facing housing instability, to both end and prevent homelessness once, and for all.