Using Data to Promote Equity: The Demographic Data Project

Pride Month marks the launch of the Alliance’s Demographic Data Project.  The project promotes awareness about the connections between identity and homelessness.  It urges systems, advocates, researchers, and others to consider ways they can help promote equity for groups that have historically faced social barriers.

The first brief in this four-part series is Demographic Data Project: Gender MinoritiesAuthored by Alliance research Associate, Jackie Janosko, it tells the data stories of transgender and non-binary people in the homeless services system.  Serving these groups is a nation-wide concern; gender minorities were counted in an overwhelming majority of states and in nearly two-thirds of Continuums of Care (CoCs) during the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD’s) Point-In-Time (PIT) counts.  However, they are not equally served.  They are far less likely to be in homeless shelters; 82 percent of non-binary individuals and 56 percent of transgender individuals are unsheltered compared to 48 percent of those who are cisgender.

Previous data likely informed the creation of HUD’s Equal Access Rule, which compels shelters and other housing programs to remove entry barriers rooted in gender identity.  The Alliance’s brief points to the need to support and sustain implementation of the Equal Access Rule – particularly at a time in which the Trump Administration may revisit its provisions.

Using Data to Promote Equity

The theme of data-informed efforts to promote equality flows through the rest of the Demographic Data Project briefs. They are focused on differences in how homelessness is experienced based on race, gender, and region. 

Our analysis found previous patterns of elevated homelessness among groups like black Americans, Native Americans, and men. However, this series will go behind the curtain of national-level statistics. There, we find states and CoCs where circumstances for marginalized groups are far more dire than the average. And we note places in the country where relatively advantaged groups like white Americans are also homeless at alarming rates.

The Demographic Data Project relies on detailed data from HUD’s 2018 PIT Count.  As with all sources in the world of research and data, it is imperfect.  For instance, it relies on self-reports and/or staff and volunteer opinions on identity.  The quality of data collection may vary by community.  Some groups may be undercounted.  But systems are constantly working towards improvements. And the information they provide always offers greater nuance to the story of homelessness in America.

When it comes to understanding and promoting equity in homeless services, no one has all the answers.  It is unlikely that anyone even has all the questions. With the Demographic Data Project, our goal is to contribute to the conversation and promote greater thought on how to ensure that all people are appropriately served on the road towards ending homelessness.