Q: How is the survey conducted? How do you find homeless people to survey?
A: The study is a point-in-time survey of people throughout the state who meet the federal definition of homelessness. It is conducted every three years on the last Thursday in October at emergency shelters, domestic violence shelters, transitional housing programs, social service agencies, encampments and abandoned buildings. We work closely with homeless service providers to obtain counts of all homeless people staying in some type of shelter that evening, and to help us coordinate interviews with the guests at these shelters. We also partner with service providers and homeless outreach workers to conduct interviews at drop-in service locations, such as Homeless Connect events, and to conduct street outreach. About two-thirds of those surveyed are in the metro area. We use trained volunteers to conduct the interviews. In 2015, we had more than 1,000 interviewers spread out across nearly 400 locations statewide.
Q: How many questions are on the survey? How are the questions selected?
A: There are more than 300 questions and sub-questions that address the overall homeless population as well as questions targeted to parents, youth on their own, and veterans. Questions have been identified by housing advocates, policymakers and state planners, funders and researchers who develop the study. Where possible, standard questions are used that have been tested elsewhere – for example, the mental health questions came from a national health survey. The particular mix of questions in any given year is determined based on a balance between the need for a core set of consistent questions for solid trend data; new or revised items to respond to shifting policies, conditions, and needs; and the need to keep the survey to a manageable length.
Wilder’s triennial statewide study of homelessness is considered the most comprehensive source of descriptive information about homeless adults, youth, and children in Minnesota. It is not intended to be a complete count because no study strategy can locate all homeless people. Other sources of information that complement our understanding of homelessness include:
- An annual point in time (PIT) count of persons living without shelter
- The Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), which includes client information compiled by all providers of federal and state funded supportive housing and emergency shelter