North Carolina Housing Inventory Count for Families Experiencing Homelessness 2017-2021

In North Carolina alone, there were more than 32,000 children under age 6 experiencing homelessness in 2018-20191,  according to the US Department of Education (DOE). While this is a pre-pandemic count and would have likely only counted children under 6 who had siblings in a public school, it is highly probable that this number has grown—not shrunk—since then. Because many families with young children that are struggling to pay for housing often find a safe place to live with relatives (double-up) or move from one person’s home to another, it is hard to count the actual number of children under 6 experiencing homelessness. Parents with young children often try to hide their homelessness for fear of losing their children. Homelessness is challenging and particularly for young children who are at critical developmental stages. To lose one’s home, and all of the security that represents during early childhood, is life altering. Homelessness is traumatic.

For the past few years, Child Care Services Association (CCSA) has been sounding the alarm about early childhood homelessness and the accompanying risks to the development of young children. In 2021 CCSA released An Invisible Crisis: Early Childhood Homelessness—A Primer by Anna Sucsy to document the complexities of housing and homelessness and discuss the challenges of young families with insecure housing. Later that year, CCSA released another report, A Data Snapshot of Young Children at Risk of Homelessness in North Carolina, to examine the risk factors for NC’s youngest children when experiencing homelessness. In June 2022, CCSA released Homelessness Among Infants, Toddlers, Preschool and School-Age Children in Orange County, Durham County and “Balance of State” Continuums of Care, FY 2021 to document federally-funded homeless service use and demographic data about children experiencing homelessness in communities across NC. In July 2022, CCSA released Supporting Families Experiencing Homelessness: Child Care Policies. This report reviews data in FY2022-2024 Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) state plans to identify policies and strategies across states designed to support children and families experiencing homelessness.

The North Carolina Housing Inventory Count from 2017 to 2021 is CCSA’s most recent effort to examine the deeply complex nature of homelessness. Fundamentally, ending homelessness for a family, or the nation, requires enough adequate, affordable and accessible beds and homes as well as other supports. Nationally, the responsibility to fund housing initiatives and manage homeless programs falls to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD funds a variety of programs and collects and distributes data about those programs. One such report is the Housing Inventory Count (HIC), which is produced annually. The HIC is designed to count that basic commodity – beds and units available for occupancy. While HUD acknowledges it is not a full accounting of all beds and units in a community, it is likely the largest portion available in an area. 

Contrary to the count of young children experiencing homelessness through DOE and HHS (where the number of homeless children under 6 was over 32,000 in 2019)2, HUD uses a narrower definition of homelessness and thus its numbers of homeless individuals and families are significantly lower. HUD homelessness counts occur during an annual Point In Time Count (PIT) that typically misses families doubled up or living in hotel rooms paid for by a local group, for example. Notably, in 2020, HUD reported just 1,576 North Carolina family members (including children under 18 years of age) experienced homelessness. That number is down from 1,812 in 2017. Again, because of its definition, HUD does not count children and families living doubled up, in motels, campgrounds, etc. as homeless. For HUD, homelessness is a person living in a shelter/transitional housing program, on the street, a place unfit for human habitation or at risk of losing their primary nighttime residence within 14 days and no place to go. 

By considering this narrower definition of homelessness, the reader may better understand the HUD data that reflects low numbers of beds and living units available for families and children, as documented in this report. Yet the reality is that the number of beds and units available in NC are most likely drastically short of the numbers needed. Alarmingly, the number of units and beds have decreased over time. Beds and units may not have been as much in demand during the pandemic (with the eviction moratorium in place) or as available (with limited capacity in many programs), and yet overall, capacity has been lost since 2017. 

CCSA hopes that this report will prompt further understanding of the landscape for families with children that are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. The situation is difficult at best and dire in many NC communities, as housing options simply do not exist. Questions for advocates and communities to consider about homelessness and housing inventory are available at the end of the report.