A team of UMOM staff volunteers pose for a photo before completing the Point In Time Count.

A team of UMOM staff volunteers pose for a photo before completing the Point In Time Count.

Under a bridge between Phoenix and Tempe, a group of six volunteers gathered on a chilly January morning. Across the nation, thousands of volunteers in hundreds of U.S. cities were doing exactly the same thing: launching the nation’s annual PIT Count.

At first glance, the job seems simple. Interact with people experiencing homelessness, ask questions and record pertinent information.

But the impact of this work is far larger than that first glance reveals.

What is a PIT Count?

PIT stands for ‘Point in Time.’

‘PIT Counts’ are a one-night data ‘snapshot’ of the number of homeless families, youth and single adults in communities nationwide.

Why do PIT Counts matter?

PIT Counts matter most because they are the primary way the federal government tracks the overall number of people experiencing homeless. The counts are also used to benchmark progress toward our shared national goal to permanently end homelessness.

PIT Counts began in 2005 and have been conducted every year since. They remain the most comprehensive and easy-to-understand tool available to measure sheltered and unsheltered homelessness.

But the counts are not perfect.

Many agencies agree that PIT counts miss homeless people who are ‘doubled-up;’ for example, families living with other families because neither can afford a home. The counts are also unlikely to include homeless people who are currently in the hospital or in jail.

A particular challenge is youth under the age of 24. Most communities – including greater Phoenix – have a small number of shelter beds dedicated to youth. Young people can be unwilling to enter shelter and often don’t stay in places inhabited by homeless adults, making them hard to find and hard to count.

Even with those shortcomings, volunteers like Emily Balli – a new UMOM staffer who works with our development team –  find the survey experience valuable.

Emily was with that Phoenix group under the bridge in January. “The people we spoke with understood why we were there and why we wanted to help count the amount of people experiencing homelessness in Phoenix,” she said. “We were able to share a list of services and other resources with them, and answer their questions, too.”

“For me, it was a great experience. I’m proud to work for UMOM, and it was important for me to see the people we serve, hear their stories and understand their experiences.”

Emily is already planning to participate next year.

Takeaways:

  • PIT Count is a ‘Point-in-Time’ data snapshot of the number of people experiencing homelessness.
  • PIT Counts happen every January in communities across the nation.
  • The federal government uses PIT data to track the overall number of people experiencing homelessness and to benchmark progress toward permanent ending homelessness.
  • The counts are not perfect. But since data has now been collected for more than a decade, they are way to begin to understand and solve issues of homelessness.

Sources and Resources:

Maricopa Association of Governments, http://azmag.gov/Programs/Homelessness/Point-In-Time-Homeless-Count

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, https://www.hudexchange.info/news/snaps-in-focus-a-discussion-about-the-point-in-time-count/

National Alliance to End Homelessness, https://endhomelessness.org/resource/what-is-a-point-in-time-count/