By: Emily Derenthal
Every year on a single night in January, volunteers gather in churches, community centers, parks, and municipal buildings to load up on maps, surveys, and gift cards. They head out into the night to walk the streets, peering in car windows, looking in doorways and alleys, behind schools, under freeways, and everywhere in between, for people living outdoors. This is the scene of the Point in Time (PIT) Survey, the one night a year when we are required to count the number of people experiencing homelessness in
For the last two years, my role in Point in Time has been to prepare THC’s program data to be submitted for the sheltered portion of the PIT survey. THC reports on families living in our transitional, permanent supportive, and rapid rehousing programs for the purposes of PIT. DC has made great strides to integrate PIT with our existing data resources to minimize the additional workload for providers (and I think I speak for myself and THC’s case managers when I say we are VERY grateful for that). I’ve spent the last few weeks, and I’ll continue working for a few more weeks, making sure that our
client count is accurate, and that we have answered all of the survey questions. These questions pertain to gender, age, ethnicity, Veteran status and more. It sounds easy enough, but when you’re talking about 250+ families in nine different programs, it adds up.
At the community, state, and national level, the PIT process can be laborious, and there are ongoing debates about the count’s accuracy and ability to paint a comprehensive picture of homelessness; but I am a big supporter, and continuing to utilize PIT data is our best way of knowing whether or not we are moving the needle on homelessness. We know it’s an inexact tool, but I am a numbers person, so I’ll take an estimate if that’s all I can get. Continuing to utilize PIT data as benchmarks means that we can compare data from 2010 to data in 2014, and have confidence that we are comparing apples to apples. This historical data allowed communities like Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and New Orleans to track progress and report that they effectively ended chronic homelessness among Veterans. It can also create red flags if the population or a particular subpopulation (like families, Veterans, or unaccompanied youth) is increasing from year to year, and adjust resources to better serve that population in the coming year.
Finally, I like that Point in Time is an annual event that gets people talking about homelessness, and creates an opportunity for people to get engaged with this part of their community. It gives volunteers the opportunity to talk with people living on the streets, and it gives policy makers a chance to see the impacts of their work in real life. If we are going to end homelessness, and I think we can, it will be because we make a concentrated, coordinated effort to do so. And because we will have the numbers to back it up.
Learn more about the Point in Time Count with some first Hand Accounts of DC’s 2015 Point in Time Survey
- For one night, trying to make each homeless person count
- The Bone Chilling, Heart-Wrenching Process of Counting the Nations Homeless
- A Cold Night for a Good Cause
- For Volunteers Counting the Homeless, Striking out Means Success
Check out local-, state-, and national-level PIT data from 2005 to 2014 on the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Exchange’s website.