On Feb. 23, 2022, Knoxville-area homeless service providers and outreach workers conducted the annual point-in-time (PIT) count to determine who is living in unsheltered conditions as well as in emergency shelter and transitional housing within Knoxville and Knox County. Cities and communities across the country conduct this count annually at around the same time of year and report this data to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which then compiles the information and releases a national report later in the year.
The PIT count is essentially a snapshot, capturing data on how many people were experiencing homelessness on a single night, at that one point in time. Because some people may experience homelessness briefly at any point during the year, a cumulative number of everyone who experiences homelessness throughout a whole year will be much larger than this single snapshot.
This year’s local PIT count indicates an increase in the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness as well as an increase in the number of individuals and families in emergency shelter. While these numbers do reflect an actual increase, the methods utilized in this year’s PIT count process were improved and resulted in a more accurate and complete count, finding some people who might have been missed in previous years.
“With more outreach workers, there’s more engagement with people experiencing homelessness,” says City of Knoxville Homelessness Services Coordinator Shawn Griffith. “What we’re seeing in the 2022 count is a more accurate representation of what our city’s homeless population truly is.”
The PIT count identified 373 unsheltered individuals and 805 who were in emergency shelter or transitional housing, totaling 1,178 homeless individuals in Knoxville.
More outreach workers and agency volunteers than in previous years conducted the count. This year, for the first time, canvassers used the Hyperion Point-in-Time Count Software—a secure mobile application on personal smart phones and agency tablets—which improved efficiency and accuracy of the count.
“This year’s PIT count also captured households that are historically hard to count, like people who are sheltered in hotels and motels,” adds Griffith, referring to a federally funded COVID-19 relief program operated by Community Action Community (CAC) that provides hotel vouchers to families, youth, and elderly individuals experiencing homelessness.Many of these families and individuals might otherwise have been sleeping in their cars or doubled up with family members, making them more difficult to find and count during the PIT.
“Homelessness isn't a description of a person so much as of an event, which may be anywhere from one night to multiple years in length,” says Nate First of Knoxville Homeless Management Information System (KnoxHMIS). “Every community’s response to homelessness must address these events at both ends, by housing people who are already homeless as well as by preventing episodes of homelessness before they start.
“KnoxHMIS data indicates that thousands of literally homeless clients have been housed in recent years; more than 1,600 were permanently housed in 2021. Of those housed each year, roughly 15 percent may enter new episodes of homelessness again within two years,” First says.
Per the KnoxHMIS dashboard, the top three primary reasons people reported they are experiencing homelessness during the first three months of 2022 were “no affordable housing,” “mental/health reasons” and “eviction.”
The City of Knoxville has responded to the community’s need for affordable housing by investing more than $14.3 million toward the construction of 1,019 affordable housing units (completed or under construction) since 2017. The City has committed $4.6 million to upcoming projects, which will result in an additional estimated 286 units.
During her time in office, Mayor Indya Kincannon has committed to spending a minimum of $50 million over the next 10 years to support the development of affordable housing through the Affordable Housing Fund. The recently approved 2022-23 budget commits $10.8 million to increasing the availability of affordable housing and creating pathways to housing and stability for individuals already experiencing homelessness.