Point In Time Count
by Joseangel Ramos
More than 450 volunteers, many from homeless service agencies, went out into the cold from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. January 22 with Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) staff to count people living on the streets.
The federally-mandated Point in Time (PIT) count was taken in odd-numbered years until last year, when the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs requested an additional count nationwide because of President Obama’s mandate to end homelessness among veterans by this year. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires the PIT street count every two years and a yearly shelter count as a basis for federal funding for local homeless programs. The majority of the PIT survey work across the city relies on volunteers: 150 City and sister agency employees and 300 more people from the community. In addition, homeless volunteers receive a small stipend.
“This is my first time volunteering, it was great and I learned a lot,” said Gregory Gross, The Night Ministry community health manager. “If you are thinking about [volunteering] I would encourage people to do so. If you are interested in the topic of homelessness this would be a good way to have an entry point. You go through training and this is a one-time event [a year] and you are not alone because you are sent out with a team.”
Working from DFSS information on “hot spots” where homeless might have been found, teams count different parts of the city. Survey workers take only a simple census of sleeping people, but sometimes the homeless subjects offer longer interviews.
“That night I saw parts of the city I have never seen before,” Gross said. “I felt like there was not a whole lot of people that we found, but talking to other people, who have done it before, we felt like we had found a significant amount of people.”
Gross’s team counted only 12 people during their search throughout “Peterson down to Addison also from Cicero to Kedzie,” he said.
Last year the count identified a total of 6,294 homeless people on the night of Jan. 22; 5,329 were located in shelters while 965 people were located on the street or in other public places.
“It was a lot of ground that we covered that night and it was challenging because if you know the area, it is a very residential area which made it more challenging,” Gross said. “We did end up finding more people in commercial areas. We went looking at McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts and all the other places open late. We went to 24-hour restaurants and asked everyone in there so we didn’t single anyone out. And before we went up to people to ask them to participate in our survey, my team gathered together and talked about how to approach someone.”
Volunteers use written forms to collect this data, which is later entered into a database created by the Natalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Because this data needs to be thoroughly analyzed, count results will not be released until this summer.
Needs identified in previous PIT counts helped in the formulation of the City’s Plan 2.0 to End Homelessness, said Matt Smith, spokesman for Chicago DFSS. Data collected through the count is used to determine the types of housing and services that may be needed, as well as the best way to allocate resources.
Weather is a factor in the number of people who choose to be in shelters compared to being out in the street, but when asked some homeless people preferred the outdoors to the shelters.
“I wasn’t surprised, the people that would speak with us told us that when they did seek shelter they did not gave a good experience.” Gross explained. “They didn’t find comfort there, they found more comfort out in the street because they felt there was a sense of community there and they felt much safer than in the shelters they went to. They told me about different experiences of fightings, intimidation and not feeling respected in the shelters.”
“I suggested they would try another shelter next time because not every shelter is the same, but maybe giving it a try somewhere else,” Gross said. “I think everyone has the assumption of shelters about how shelters should feel safe and hopefully that is the case but depending on the shelter and the situation it might not be a good situation for a person. When the weather gets really cold the shelters might be over capacitated and so more people in a small space can lead to tension.”