Homelessness is a concern for our entire community. We may know someone who is homeless. We may have seen someone we suspect is homeless in the skyway, on the street, or at a camp. These are visible reminders of the impacts of homelessness on our community.
This story shares information about who and how many people are homeless in Ramsey County and how we know. It answers whether homelessness is increasing or decreasing. And it describes the characteristics of people experiencing homelessness.
Homelessness, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is:
"People who are living in a place not meant for human habitation, emergency shelter, transitional housing, or are exiting an institution where they temporarily resided.”
How do we know how many people are experiencing homelessness?
We have two main sources of that provide data on how many people are experiencing homelessness in Ramsey County. Both methods under-count actual levels of homelessness.
The first data source is the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count which counts people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January. The PIT counts people in emergency shelter, transitional housing, and unsheltered people staying outside or in places like transit or skyways. It is challenging to get an accurate count, particularly of unsheltered people, due to weather and the number of volunteers available to survey people. One time events, such as the 2018 Super Bowl hosted by the Twin Cities, can also have an impact.
The second data source is the Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS), the database used to track services provided to people experiencing homelessness. Through HMIS, we can count the number of people using emergency shelters over the entire year. However, not everyone who is homeless uses emergency shelters and not all shelters use the database. Some people do not like shelters or have situations that make using a shelter difficult, such as having a pet or wanting to stay with a partner. There are also a limited number of shelter beds available, so HMIS data only include people interested in and able to get into a shelter that uses the database.
Count of People Experiencing Homelessness
Each measure under counts actual homelessness, but the HMIS database's count of shelter users provides a more complete picture than the PIT count.
While the PIT count identified from 2016 to 2019 identified between 1,346 to 1,579 people experiencing homelessness on one night each January, many more people use emergency shelters throughout the year. In 2018, nearly two and half times more people used emergency shelters at some point during the year than identified in all types of homelessness in the PIT.
Types of Homelessness
The Point-in-Time (PIT) count looks at people experiencing three types of homelessness:
- Emergency Shelters - people staying in homeless shelters the night of the count.
- Transitional Housing - people staying in housing programs that last up to 24 months.
- Unsheltered - people staying in the street, skyway, on transit or other places not meant for human habitation.
The number of unsheltered homeless counted in the PIT increased by 146 percent between 2018 and 2019. This increase is due to both growth in actual unsheltered homelessness as well as the difficulty locating people in 2018 due to the Super Bowl. Additionally, in 2019, the weather the week of the count was well below zero with more people inside and easier to locate than in other years.
Homelessness has disparate racial and ethnic impacts
Black people and American Indian people are much more likely to experience homelessness than other groups. In 2018, Black people were eight times more likely and American Indian people were 13 times more likely to experience homelessness than White people.
Homelessness by Age
In 2018, the HMIS data showed 13 percent of people using emergency shelters were children, while the PIT count showed 27 percent were children.
Ramsey County has a finite number of shelter beds for families and children so HMIS data are more of a reflection of capacity than actual homelessness. The PIT includes shelters, like domestic violence shelters, that are not in HMIS which partially explains the higher proportion of children.
Ramsey County Services
Point-in-Time Count and HMIS Emergency Shelter Usage
Ramsey County in Context
Homelessness is not an issue unique to Ramsey County. The Twin Cities Metropolitan Area, Minnesota, and nationwide communities struggle with this issue. Learn more about homelessness beyond Ramsey County.