The 2016 Point-in-Time (PIT) count is fast approaching. HUD is currently working on finalizing its annual PIT count guidance on conducting sheltered and unsheltered counts and expects to release that to communities in the coming weeks. Many communities conduct both a sheltered and unsheltered PIT count every year. While it is not required for all Continuums of Care (CoCs) to conduct an unsheltered count in 2016, HUD strongly encourages all communities to do so. PIT count data provide critical feedback about the nature and needs of persons experiencing homelessness in their areas. The 2016 PIT count is an important benchmark to reflect the community and national efforts to end veteran homelessness by 2015. Several communities around the country have reached the goal of ending veteran homelessness and we expect to see many more in the coming months. We can end homelessness and the PIT count is one of the many ways to help us track our progress.
As communities engage in this planning process, HUD wants to be very clear that it prioritizes accuracy and high data quality. The primary purpose of the PIT count is to get the most accurate picture possible of the number of homeless persons in this country. This may mean that the numbers go up at times. HUD provides CoCs ways to indicate when an increase in PIT counts is due to methodology or other factors. HUD urges communities to provide meaningful insight to those questions, because HUD looks very carefully at those responses. The bottom line is that it is difficult to solve a problem that you can’t measure. The PIT count data is one of the ways we get a snapshot of what is going on.
There are many things that communities can and ought to be doing as they prepare for this upcoming count.
The effectiveness of a PIT count is often a reflection of the planning that has gone into it. Communities should review HUD’s PIT Count Methodology Guide for clarity on HUD’s counting standards and for ideas about how to conduct a high quality PIT count. Communities should then review their own PIT count methodology to determine if it produces the best estimate of homelessness for their area.
Another significant action communities should be taking now is to ensure the right people are at the table for the PIT count planning. This means having a voice for subpopulations like homeless veterans, youth, families, and persons experiencing chronic homelessness. Communities can be working right now to contact all stakeholders in their area and to forge the partnerships needed to have an accurate count. One of the best resources communities have are the persons currently experiencing homelessness. They know where people congregate, how best to approach other persons experiencing homelessness, and when to approach people. If a community has not included currently or formerly homeless persons in its planning process, it should strive to change that in 2016.
Communities have a lot of information and datasets available to them. HUD encourages communities to find ways to leverage those data sources to produce the most accurate PIT count possible. For example, many communities have by-name lists of their homeless veterans. Many by-name lists are based on robust outreach that allows communities to update their list on a regular basis and incorporating the PIT count as part of the process of updating the by-name list can be a valuable use of time and resources. Alternatively, the PIT count process provides a way of validating whether the by-name list is a good representation of the homeless veterans on the night of the PIT count.
Additionally, many communities have asked about how to use information from the U.S. Department of Education in conjunction with HUD’s PIT count process. There have been communities that have successfully worked with local homeless education liaisons (LEAs) to follow up with the youth and families on the night of the count. This takes extra coordination and close partnership with schools, but the results are well worth it. As communities work with these other datasets and resources, they must still be sure to initiate steps to accurately de-duplicate the data and ensure the homeless status of persons being counted. Efforts to coordinate in this way may not result in a change to the PIT count in 2016, but HUD hopes that the relationships that are formed will improve counts in the future and – more importantly – improve the ability to connect persons experiencing homelessness to the resources they need to obtain stable housing. While communities are limited in what they report to HUD, they are encouraged to collect and use data locally that will inform who they are serving and how to better serve them.
There are several other resources listed on the PIT and HIC Guides, Tools, and Webinars page on the HUD Exchange, including an extrapolation tool for demographics, model surveys, and much more. Please take advantage of these resources.