Volunteers dispersed across Connecticut on Wednesday night to survey the homeless for the annual Point-in-Time Count, a nationwide homeless survey that is mandatory for communities applying for funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
This year’s PIT report, which includes the numbers of homeless people both in shelters and on the streets, is to be released in April, according to volunteers. This year’s survey was bolstered by additional data collection on the specific housing needs of the homeless population. Despite this addition, homeless assistance organizations acknowledged that the PIT is not exhaustive, leaving out data such as incidents of repeat homelessness, new homelessness and the amount of time it takes for the homeless to find housing.
“[The PIT] is not a comprehensive way to understand homelessness … but it is an indicator that is standard across the country,” said Lisa Bates SOM ’09, executive director of the nonprofit Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, which coordinated the state’s PIT count. “It becomes a useful snapshot of where we are in relation to last year, and the year before, and the year before that.”
This year’s additional data about homeless individuals’ specific housing needs will be given to providers of homeless services, said Bates. She explained that the new information will help distinguish between different kinds of homeless people, including those who have been homeless for months and have severe mental disabilities and those who have been homeless for 10 days because they lost their job.
For those in the latter group, providing job search assistance and helping cover the first month’s rent may be enough to get them into permanent housing, Bates said, adding that other homeless individuals may need in-home supportive services that would help them deal with mental illness or substance abuse.
Workers at homelessness assistance organizations in New Haven echoed Bates’ assessment of the PIT, noting that it does not cover some important indicators of homelessness.
Kellyann Day, CEO of New Reach — an organization that provides shelter and services to the homeless — said that while the PIT is a good snapshot of the number of individuals living both in shelters and on the streets, it is not as effective at identifying youth or families that are homeless.
John Bradley, executive director of Liberty Community Services, a supportive housing and service organization, said he expects the number of chronically homeless individuals to be down compared to last year in light of the “100-Day Challenge to End Homelessness” that took place this past summer. According to the New Haven Independent, 102 chronically homeless persons were housed as a result of the “100-Day Challenge,” a collaboration among 28 state and local agencies to end chronic homelessness.
Sue Xiao MED ’18 volunteered in the count for the first time. She was put into a group of five that included another Yale student, two homelessness assistance organization workers and a community member. After initially surveying West River Memorial Park in West Haven, her team leader drove them through areas in New Haven where homeless people usually gather, beginning three blocks from the Yale Medical School and continuing beyond St. Raphael’s Hospital.
“I felt almost embarrassed that I had been on campus for more than a semester, and I wasn’t really aware where the homeless populations were and the resources they used, ” Xiao said. “I’m still trying to understand what to do with the situation.”
Xiao noted that homelessness has never come up in any conversations among her peers. She said that even if one does not directly combat homelessness, part of being a good citizen is knowing one’s surrounding area.
Approximately 100 volunteers were recruited to participate in the count in New Haven.