The Point-In-Time (PIT) Count that occurred in January across Oregon’s Marion-Polk region involved volunteers, shelter staff, and outreach workers who connected with 879 unsheltered individuals and 926 temporarily sheltered individuals for a total of 1,805 people. This was approximately 20 percent more than the people contacted during the 2021 PIT Count the year prior.
The PIT Count is an annual, nationwide event that happens the last week of January. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development asks communities to individually count their homeless populations to identify how many individuals and households are homeless in the community, and to determine some of their key characteristics. While the outcome of the count does not directly affect HUD funding levels, conducting the tally helps ensure our communities remain eligible for federal funding for housing and homelessness services.
A considerable amount of time and effort goes into coordinating the PIT Count each year to provide a stage for those experiencing homelessness to share their story, and for volunteers and community members to witness the raw effects that being homeless has on a person.
The PIT Count, however, is only one of the sources we use to gather a more complete picture of the local homeless crisis and to inform our program services, because it only tells us about the demographics of people experiencing homelessness that volunteers are able to find – not about what happened to them or what will necessarily help them. The PIT Count is also dependent on volunteer resources and is limited to three days; during which it isn’t feasible to find or connect with all individuals in our region experiencing homelessness.
If we limit our understanding of the issue to only demographic data gathered on three days of the year, we run the risk of simply managing homelessness – not ending it. To end homelessness, we must dig deeper to understand how individuals became homeless and what services will help them.
Another source we use to gather information is a Coordinated Entry Assessment, which provides an opportunity to assess an individual’s areas of vulnerability, needs and preferences. The data gathered from this process helps with the coordination and management of the homeless response system, so people are connected more efficiently and effectively with housing and other services needed to rapidly end their homelessness.
One of our primary roles as a HUD-approved Continuum of Care is to stimulate community planning and coordination of programs for people experiencing homelessness. We need good data to plan accurately; including how many people are experiencing homelessness, who they are, the barriers they face, and whether there are more or fewer people than before.
In the past year, we expanded the number of places people can access the homeless services system, so more individuals and families can engage with it. This expansion involved training staff at multiple agencies to provide trauma-informed assessments and improving our data collection and ability to refer people to appropriate services in a timely manner.
To support a common understanding of local conditions, we are also developing an outward facing data dashboard that will soon be accessible on our website. It will not only provide charts and graphs, but also explain the sources of the information – so we can make accurate comparisons over time.
On the coordination side, we are facilitating discussions about how to spend homeless services funds dedicated specifically to rural Marion County and coordinating implementation of the regional plan to end youth homelessness. Each of these efforts engages new partners and expands the cadre of individuals and agencies working across systems. Every committee has a work plan, and we encourage you to read our full Strategic Plan.
As we move forward in our fight to end homelessness, we will continue to use every piece of information we can to help our community members.