Every year, right around this time, communities across the country conduct their point-in-time count.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that communities receiving federal funds from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program conduct a point-in-time count at least every other year. Most communities conduct their counts annually; some do it even more often than that.
These point-in-time counts are the cornerstone of homelessness data. Data conducted during these counts are used to create the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress and provide the best data available on the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States.
Count methodology varies across the country. For smaller communities, volunteers may comb the streets and individually count each and every person they see experiencing homelessness. And then there are some communities – think New York, Detroit, Los Angeles – where such a practice would be impossible. So advocates and city officials create formulas and algorithms to extrapolate a more limited count into a realistic estimate. And every year, count methodology evolves and improves so we’re able to get a more and more accurate count.
And why’s that important? Because in order to solve a problem, we first have to understand it – and these counts are the first line in developing that understanding. Before we delve into the details, before we pick apart subpopulations and demographics, we gauge the scope of the problem by understanding these point-in-time counts.
And – as always – you can help. Communities from San Mateo, CA to Houston, TX to Mid-Willamette, OR are conducting their counts this week. Find out when your community count is (it’s soon – we promise!) and see if you can’t get involved in ending homelessness.