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20th January
written by Pete Witte

Since the release of The State of Homelessness in America – and frankly, long before that – we’ve gotten questions about homelessness data.

It was my job at the Alliance to conduct data acquisition and analysis for The State of Homelessness report – and we thought it might be nice to shed some light on the process:

First, we needed to acquire all of the data. Now I’d love to say that this was as easy as going to websites of public-data sources and clicking a link that read Click here to quickly download all the data you need for your report-making-fun, but as anyone who has worked with data knows, data acquisition is much more complicated.

It was further complicated by the fact that – as report readers know – we gathered a lot of data. If you check out the Appendix of the report, you can see that we acquired data from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Administration for Children and Families, and Realty Trac – just to name a handful.

Getting our hands on the data, as anyone who’s tried to extract data from a federal agency can tell you, was no small feat. We made Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, sent request letters by email, downloaded huge micro-data files that took hours, and so on.

Once a data sources were acquired and once I was familiar with the variables, definitions, and limitations of the data, it was time to run analyses, organize and interpret the data, and put the data into tables for further interpretation. What we receive are huge files – often spreadsheets – of raw data. We then had to filter through the data, find the specific pieces of information we were looking for, and interpret those into data that we could use for our report.

For example, we knew we wanted to measure income vulnerability, but we needed to figure out how: did we want to include employment income or all sources of income? What about the average number of weeks worked? Average income among poor workers or all workers or both? These are the types of questions we asked as we put the project through quality assurance crash tests.

From the beginning, we planned to assess changes in homeless counts, as these changes have been tracked by the Alliance for a number of years. Most of the economic and demographic factors were also planned but some of the measures were given tune-ups as we went along. And that meant going back into the fray to get more information.

I know this doesn’t answer every question but I’m hoping that this helps readers understand what kind of crunching the data went through before it went into our report! We look forward to hearing from you about The State of Homelessness and we hope that the data in the report proves useful as we move closer to ending homelessness.


  1. Sharron Gale West

    I think it’s absolutely fabulous the amount of work that you are putting into the project for the homeless relief effort. It’s a big problem that grows more aggressive each day.

    I lived in a tent with my Pottawatomie husband for 13years and know first hand the daily struggles. My husband was murdered by the KKK and I know that there is no stats for the amount of murders and brutal beatings that take place without punishment for the attackers. I would hope some effort could be focused on getting the stats for these crimes. It could be a helpful tool to gain financial support with a strong reality of the cruelty of the vulnerable homeless.

    So, I do what I can to support all the efforts for the healing process of other’s lost to the streets. I’ve lived on my own since my husband passed, for 14years now without living homeless.

    I think its important to give my thanks everywhere to everyone I see making a difference, like yourself. Keep up the good works for the forgotten homeless people. You have my support today and everyday you champion your efforts for peaceful solutions.

  2. [...] on this blog to explicate our findings, definitions, and other nerdy bits (latest installment: a post about data from Pete) so stay [...]

  3. Cathy Grafton

    Good info. besides stats, we need to do more talking to the front line people who are working with homless families and individuals and also hear from those people in homless sitatuations. I know in rural, central Illinois – much of what we see is families now not only doubled up, but tripled up and then the whole situation often starts to go bad for everyone. Our senior program is full of seniors with grown children who have returned, many of them single males who have no income and who may have additional barriers, such as drug or alcohol problems, prison records or some type of sexual predator history. Where can these people go – and what jobs cn they find to sustain them has to be part of the question we are asking each community.

    Thanks for all the work you do.