For more than a decade, the IU Public Policy Institute and the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention have worked with local organizations to conduct Marion County’s annual Point-In-Time (PIT) Count. The PIT Count provides a critical glimpse into Indianapolis’ homeless community and serves as a resource for policy makers and leaders to learn about the people who make up this population.
In previous years, the survey was conducted on a single night in January, with teams surveying people who live in both sheltered and unsheltered situations. Due to COVID-19, research teams modified their approach in 2021 for the safety of surveys and the people they met. Analysts caution interpretation of the 2021 PIT Count data should be done cautiously and with the mindset that COVID-related changes likely impacted the results.
2021 PIT COUNT RESULTS
The 2021 PIT Count saw the highest number of individuals counted in the past 10 years—sheltered and unsheltered—at 1,928 people. However, methodology changes likely contributed to the increase. Of those 1,928 people, 257 reported they were U.S. military veterans, an increase from the 221 in 2020.
More people lived in shelters or in unsheltered situations in 2021. Analysts saw a shift in where these people stayed, with a larger percentage in emergency shelters and unsheltered locations than in 2020.
Among those in emergency shelters, 222 people stayed in city-run COVID shelters or hotel rooms paid for by Supportive Services for Veteran Families. Yet this may only represent a portion of people living in COVID-specific situations. Some emergency shelters reported having additional beds to address COVID-19 but grouped the people using those beds in with their general population.
Nearly 5% of people surveyed identified as Hispanic or Latinx—the largest portion of whom were in emergency shelters. At 54%, those identifying as Black or African American continue to be disproportionately represented in Indianapolis’ homeless population. They also made up the largest percentage of people in shelters. White individuals made up the largest share of Indianapolis’ unsheltered population.
Gender trends were consistent with previous years. Nearly 68% of Indianapolis’ homeless population identified as male, 32% as female, and less than 1% as transgender. Survey teams must follow HUD guidance when asking about gender. Analysts say that may cause an undercount of people who are transgender or gender nonconforming. Those individuals may decide not to disclose their gender identity due to stigma or fear for their safety.
While the 2021 PIT Count shows those ages 35–61 still make up the largest percentage of Indianapolis' homeless population, 2021 marked a continued trend in the increase of those older than 62 who are experiencing homelessness.
Survey teams encountered nine unaccompanied minors during the 2021 PIT Count, up from the previous year. In addition, there were 122 families with a combined 268 children. All of the 277 children—unaccompanied and those with families—encountered during the survey were sheltered. They made up 15% of Indianapolis’ overall homeless population.
However, analysts emphasize that—due to following HUD guidelines—this number may not paint a true picture of child homelessness in Marion County. The guidelines do not account for children or families staying with friends or relatives. Instead, the PIT Count policy brief includes separate information on the number of school-age children experiencing homelessness, according to federal McKinney-Vento Act reporting.
2021 PIT COUNT RECOMMENDATIONS
Analysts note changes in methodology and shelters’ services have implications for the future.
First, they stress that it is unclear to what degree COVID-19 affected the number of people counted and their experiences because the pandemic also impacted data quality.
Next, the team recommends organizations look at the shift away from transitional housing this year. While a number of factors could cause this change, analysts recommend organizations examine whether the number of beds in transitional housing meets the need and whether this intervention is what people need. They also recommend reviewing eligibility criteria and potential barriers people may face in accessing transitional housing services.
Lastly, analysts recommend future research teams maintain a similar, multiday approach to provide a more accurate comparison with 2021 and increase the likelihood of a comprehensive and accurate count.