Student Fellowship

Understanding How Many People Are Experiencing Chronic Homelessness and Their Needs

Project Area:



Chattanooga, Tennessee

Reporting to:

Director of Special Projects (Office of the Mayor)

The Challenge

In Chattanooga, addressing homelessness is a key mayoral priority. According to the annual point-in-time count, the unsheltered population in Chattanooga increased 80% over the last year, and city officials currently believe 300–400 people are experiencing chronic homelessness. Getting to an accurate count, however, and understanding why people are experiencing chronic homelessness has been a challenge. City leadership aims to establish both a consensus around who is experiencing chronic homelessness and what the strategy should be for gathering accurate data on this population. This will be a crucial step in providing coordinated services and informing potential pathways out of homelessness. The city is taking a Housing First approach and has invested in permanent supportive housing, including purchasing a motel to be renovated into housing with supportive services.

The fellow working alongside Chattanooga officials will help answer these key questions:

  • How many people in Chattanooga are experiencing chronic homelessness?
  • What kind of data do the city and service providers currently collect on this population, how are these data collected, and what is the frequency of data collection?
  • Who are the people experiencing chronic homelessness? What housing challenges are they facing? What additional needs do they have?
  • What are the gaps in the existing data collection efforts?
  • How might the city, in collaboration with service providers, hospitals, and other key stakeholders, develop a more accurate count of people experiencing chronic homelessness?
  • How can these data be collected in a thoughtful, sensitive, and consistent way?

To address these questions, the fellow will engage key internal and external stakeholders including the Office of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, the Mayor’s office, Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition, City Council, Police and Fire Departments, Chattanooga Interagency Council on Homelessness, Chattanooga Community Kitchen, and the Homeless Health Care Center. The fellow will work closely with the Office of Homelessness, which is the lead organization within the city supporting this work.

What You’ll Do

The fellow will be expected to:

  • Interview key internal and external stakeholders including city staff, service providers reporting data into the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to understand current data collection, how data are currently informing strategy, gaps in existing data, and challenges to data collection.
  • Interview people experiencing chronic homelessness to understand their paths into homelessness and to develop a better understanding of need and to identify gaps in existing data.
  • Research promising approaches that other cities are taking to get a more accurate count of their chronically unsheltered population.
  • Craft a data collection strategy and recommendations for consistent data collection.

Related deliverables to be defined in concert with the fellow would likely include the following: summary of insights from stakeholder interviews and interviews with people experiencing chronic homelessness; summary of promising practices; and a data collection strategy and recommendations.

What You’ll Bring

The fellow will be expected to possess the following skills:

  • Data analysis
  • Qualitative interviewing and analysis
  • Mapping (GIS)
  • Policy analysis
  • Design thinking
  • Writing and editing
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