The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) count of people experiencing homelessness is likely an underestimate, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

GAO analyzed three sources of HUD data and "developed an econometric model of the factors influencing changes in homelessness," in addition to conducting interviews and visiting three major cities — Colorado Springs, CO, Los Angeles, and New York — that saw recent spikes in homelessness.

The rate of homelessness increased for the past three years in a row, according to HUD. The national rate increased 2.7% last year, or 567,715 people on a single night in 2019. And California experienced a 16.4% increase, more than the total increase of every other state combined.

The GAO report highlights the limitations of HUD's Point-In-Time (PIT) count for determining those figures. The PIT count is a "snapshot look at how many people are experiencing homelessness on a given day in a given year," GAO Director of Financial Markets and Community Development Alicia Puente Cackley said. It's not catching those who may have experienced homelessness on a different day that year, or those who might be doubled up or couch surfing, or sheltering somewhere that's not visible to counters, she said.

Some of the counts conducted by Continuums of Care (CoC), or the local groups that coordinate homeless resources and apply for grants with HUD, have significant year-over-year fluctuations, which "raise questions about data accuracy," according to the report.

More accurate counts are crucial for a number of reasons. "The more accurate the count, the better job HUD can do about ensuring that services are available where the need is greatest," Cackley said. "If you're undercounting, you’re not necessarily putting the money where it needs to go."

Read the full article about homelessness count by Cailin Crowe at Smart Cities Dive.