The Homeless Count in Pasadena is conducted annually to measure the prevalence of homelessness and collect data from people living in unsheltered locations and temporary shelters. The count is a collaborative effort between the Pasadena Continuum of Care and it’s lead agency, the City of Pasadena. The results are reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and included in the CoC’s annual funding application to HUD and serve as the main source of data used by public funders (i.e. federal, state, and county) to determine funding allocations and resources the city receives for homeless services.
The 2023 unsheltered count took place after sunset on the evening of January 24 (from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m.) and before sunrise the following morning (from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m.). The city’s geography was divided into 21 zones covered by volunteers, with professional street outreach teams counting in areas outside the zones, freeway embankments, and parks to ensure full coverage. In addition, volunteers surveyed people at pre-identified sites that serve people experiencing homelessness or where they are known to congregate throughout the day on January 25.
Data for the sheltered count was collected for the evening of January 24 through the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) and comparable databases. HMIS is a database used to confidentially collect client-level data for people experiencing homelessness served by providers in the CoC. The sheltered count includes people staying in emergency shelters, including hotels and motels paid for by a homeless services agency, and transitional housing programs.
In addition to the general count, Pasadena conducts a supplemental count of unaccompanied youth between 18 and 24 years old experiencing homelessness. This count aims to improve understanding and awareness of youth homelessness and is conducted in specific areas where young people experiencing homelessness are known to gather.
DEFINITION OF HOMELESSNESS.
Homelessness is defined differently across various federal agencies and institutions, such as the U.S. Department of Education or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For the Pasadena Homeless Count, the HUD definition of homelessness is utilized to determine who is included in the count, aligning with HUD's methodological requirements for Point-in-Time Count reporting.
According to HUD's definition, homelessness includes individuals and families who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. This encompasses people who:
Have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not meant for human habitation;
Are living in a publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements (including congregate shelters, transitional housing, and hotels and motels paid for by charitable organizations or by federal, state, and local government programs); or
Are exiting an institution where (s)he has resided for 90 days or less and who resided in an emergency shelter or a place not meant for human habitation immediately before entering that institution.
In addition, HUD's definition of homelessness includes people fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence who have no other residence and lack the resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing.
This narrow definition does not include people who may be “doubled up” or “couch surfing” with other family or friends, people living in motels or hotels paid for with their own funds, or people who have been in institutions such as hospitals, jails, or rehabilitation facilities for more than 90 days. Therefore, the results yielded from this count may or may not coincide with other definitions and estimates of people experiencing homelessness on a local, state, and national level.
LIMITATIONS OF RESULTS.
The Homeless Count provides a "snapshot in time" to quantify the size of the homeless population at a specific point during the year. While it is useful for tracking trends over time, supplemental data from the existing Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) is used to assess, understand, and address the needs of individuals without safe and stable housing. While the methodology employed for the count is the most comprehensive approach available, no methodology allows for a 100% accurate estimate of all people experiencing homelessness. Regardless of how successful outreach efforts are, an undercount of people experiencing homelessness is possible. This is especially true with hard-to-reach subpopulations such as unsheltered families and unaccompanied youth.
Community Involvement & Interagency Coordination
The Homeless Count was developed in coordination with local homeless and housing service providers and people with lived experience of homelessness. The planning team was led by staff from the City of Pasadena Department of Housing and the Homeless Count volunteer coordination consultant. Throughout the planning process, staff requested the collaboration and participation of several city departments that regularly interact with people experiencing homelessness and possess considerable expertise relevant to the count, including the Pasadena Police Department and the Pasadena Department of Public Health.
The volunteer recruitment effort was led by Dan Davidson, founder of Rosebud Coffee, in coordination with the Pasadena Department of Housing. Over 160 community volunteers and homeless service professionals registered to participate in the Homeless Count. These volunteers served as enumerators on the night of the count, working in predetermined teams to survey individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Pasadena. To participate, all volunteers underwent a two-hour virtual training session during the previous week. They were provided with a live presentation during the training and pre-recorded materials covering general and safety guidelines, as well as an overview of the survey tool.
Pasadena's geography was divided into 21 zones, each covered by a team of volunteers. Professional street outreach teams covered areas outside the zones, including freeway embankments and parks, to ensure comprehensive coverage. Each team received a list of hotspots and a map clearly delineating the boundaries of their assigned zone. Volunteers were asked to cover their entire zone in both the evening and morning shifts, completing a survey of every person they encountered who was experiencing homelessness. While volunteers were encouraged to complete a full survey for each person, 50% of the surveys conducted relied solely on observation. The "observation only" surveys were used when a person declined to participate or when conducting a survey was not feasible due to the person's location or if they were asleep.
To streamline data collection and enhance data quality, Pasadena utilized a mobile-enabled GIS survey instrument accessed by volunteers through their smartphones or tablets. This user-friendly survey tool recorded participant responses and locations electronically, allowing for real-time data collection and facilitating more efficient counting efforts. Technical assistance was readily available during the count when needed, and the use of a unique identifier code automatically flagged duplicate responses. The mobile survey format also employed conditional logic based on previous answers to reduce the likelihood of errors made by volunteers.
For surveys with missing information, a HUD-approved methodology was used to estimate population demographics. Surveys lacking complete information, including observation-only surveys, those with "don't know/refused to answer" responses, and those where participants dropped out, were excluded from the denominator. The proportion of the population with a specific characteristic was determined based on the remaining surveys, and those proportions were then applied to the total population experiencing homelessness.
Although efforts were made to ensure individuals were surveyed only once, duplications could still occur. To minimize duplication, individuals who completed a full survey were assigned a unique identifier that prevented them from being included in the final count more than once. This identifier was created using specific characteristics, such as initials, gender, race, age, and ethnicity. When a duplicate ID is identified, location data, identifying characteristics provided, and time stamps recorded through the mobile survey are taken into consideration when determining whether a survey is in fact a duplicate.
Data for the sheltered count was collected from people who were temporarily sheltered on the night of the count using the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). HMIS is a confidential database administered by the Continuum of Care and widely utilized by homeless service providers in Pasadena to store client-level data. Prior to the Homeless Count, providers were notified in advance about the date and were advised to ensure that their data in HMIS was updated and accurate for the count evening. The Pasadena Public Health Department and Friends In Deed activated their weather-activated motel vouchers on the count evening, and individuals who spent the night in these programs were included in the sheltered count. Additionally, the sheltered count incorporated data from Door of Hope's Domestic Violence Transitional Housing Program and Hillsides' EFSP United Way client data through a provider-level survey.
Pasadena also conducted a supplementary count specifically targeting unaccompanied and parenting youth between the ages of 18 and 24. Identifying youth experiencing homelessness presents unique challenges as they often congregate in different locations and at different times compared to older adults. This dedicated count aligns with a nationwide effort recommended by HUD to enhance understanding and address youth homelessness comprehensively.
Groups involved in the count conducted surveys along predetermined routes informed by hotspot planning with the assistance of youth volunteers. Trained youth enumerators, who either currently or recently experienced homelessness, along with youth service providers, surveyed unaccompanied and parenting youth between the ages of 18 and 24 on January 25 from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. The data collected from the supplemental youth count and unsheltered count were compared and deduplicated using the same methodology employed in the unsheltered count.