Every January, volunteers hit the streets to conduct the national, one-day annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The count of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness provides data used by HUD and local communities to set policy decisions and funding levels for relevant programs and measure progress toward eliminating homelessness.
Coordinating the annual count lies with local Continuum of Care (CoC) organizations working with local governments and community-based agencies offering services to the homeless population. Tools and resources for coordinating and conducting the count have increased in number and availability throughout the years.
LARGO SERVES AS PIT DEPLOYMENT SITE
“A few years ago, we began hosting a mid-county deployment site, which means that we host training for volunteers in our area leading up to the count and deploy volunteers on the day of the count to complete surveys,” said Arrow M. Woodard, Housing Manager, Housing Division.
The deployment site also supports volunteers and distributes and collects all materials used. “Typically, one or two 1.5-hour training sessions are offered for employees and community volunteers at our site.” Several more training sessions are held throughout the county with other deployment sites and partnering agencies.
Although volunteers use Outreach Grid’s PIT count mobile app to gather data from people interviewed for the count, weather emergencies have led to precautions in case volunteers have problems with the app. “Every team has a few paper copies of the survey to use if the app is not working or if the person being interviewed is reluctant to consent to use of the digital survey,” said Woodard.
The PIT Planning Committee has also taken steps to ensure the safety of volunteers. Law enforcement officers survey people in less visible or higher risk areas such as encampments or wooded areas, Woodard said.
In the past, PIT count volunteers wore distinctive T-shirts identifying them as official volunteers to reassure the people interviewed. “We realized that this is not effective if it is raining or cold and a jacket is covering the T-shirt,” Woodard said. The City has been considering options including a sash that can be placed over a jacket and can be re-used from year to year.
ORLANDO VOLUNTEERS USE MOBILE APP
“We’ve moved from completing the survey with pen and paper to using an app that can be downloaded to the volunteer’s phone,” said Lisa Portelli, Senior Advisor to Mayor on Homelessness and Social Services, City of Orlando. “Not only is this easier for the volunteer to manage, but the geolocation function of the app also provides exact locations that help the CoC report data by specific communities.”
JACKSONVILLE EMPLOYEES PARTICIPATE IN COUNT
“All of our employees can volunteer as surveyors for the PIT count as part of their seven hours of volunteer time for which they are paid or as unpaid time,” said Dawn Lockhart, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Office of Mayor, for the City of Jacksonville.
Jacksonville also has used an app: Counting Us. “Benefits of the technology include its contactless nature – no pen, no paper, no signature required – which makes volunteers feel safer and more efficient,” Lockhart said. Data is automatically uploaded, which streamlines the recording and analyzing of data, and using a digital tool improves accuracy, she added.