Data Deconstruction

Frank Carlson's excellent and informative August 12 cover story "Halfway Home" indicated that the population of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness had grown from 600 people at the end of 2009 to over 1,000 people in August of 2010. This is an understandable but unfortunate misinterpretation of some of the  complex data provided to the author by Knoxville Homeless Management Information System (KnoxHMIS). Unfortunately, the article gives readers the impression that the population of people experiencing chronic homelessness is growing dramatically in our community. In fact, our data show two encouraging things: 1.) the number of people entering chronic homelessness is decreasing; 2.) a larger number of people who are chronically homeless are now accessing the services designed to help them gain access to housing, and leave homelessness behind.

Here's how we know what we know: From August 2008 to July 2009, a total of 653 individuals were entered into KnoxHMIS as meeting criteria for chronic homelessness. That number significantly decreased from August 2009 to July 2010, during which time a total of 387 individuals newly entered the system under the status of chronically homeless.

KnoxHMIS also measures the number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness and accessing services from any of the 12 homeless service providers in the area. These individuals are considered to be "active" in the system. A total of 701 individuals accessed services and were currently experiencing chronic homelessness from August 2008 to July 2009. From August 2009 to July 2010, this number increased to 1,023 individuals. This apparent increase is believed to be a function of both improved data collection and the increased efforts by local service providers to engage individuals experiencing chronic homeless. Services provided to these individuals include case management, help with finding housing, substance abuse or drug addiction counseling, and a host of other resources aimed at helping an individual become healthy.

Data from KnoxHMIS indicates a decrease in the number of people entering chronic homelessness coupled with a significant increase in the number of individuals who are already experiencing chronic homelessness who are now accessing the necessary services to emerge from chronic homelessness. We consider that to be a positive outcome of the coordinated efforts of the Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness and the many homeless service providers in the area.

Stacia West, MSSW

Research Associate