Last week, over 400 volunteers from throughout Connecticut counted local homeless populations through the Point-in-Time Count and Connecticut Home Youth Count, two censuses run concurrently by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.
The annual PIT Count documented the homeless population, sheltered and unsheltered, in Connecticut on the night of Jan. 24, while the Youth Count both counted and conducted in-depth surveys of over 1,700 homeless youth under the age of 25 between Jan. 25 and Jan. 31. While both censuses are required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, only the PIT Count is done yearly while the Youth Count has only been conducted once previously, in 2015.
According to CCEH Executive Director Lisa Bates, this year’s data will not be available until around May.
“We really beat the drum to get people out,” Bates said. “The reason for that is not only to help us collect the data but it’s also a really important way for people who are not engaged in the work to end homelessness daily to gain some real insight into what it means to be homeless.”
According to HUD data, Connecticut homelessness is substantially falling and has seen a 47.6 percent decrease in chronically homeless individuals between 2007 and 2015. According to the 2016 PIT Count, 3,911 people were homeless in Connecticut, a 3.4 percent decrease from the previous year. Additionally, the number of chronically homeless individuals dropped 20 percent between 2015 and 2016.
Brian Roccapriore, CCEH director of homeless management information systems and strategic analysis, said a demographer will help extrapolate accurate numbers and analyze data, but that it is too early to tell what to expect from this year’s census. Roccapriore said the PIT Count does not typically count youth in temporary but unstable housing situations, something the Youth Count does in order to get a more accurate number.
“The government is aware that youth are really hard to find,” Connecticut Youth Count Coordinator Sarah Guy said.
Roccapriore said that two years ago, the Connecticut Youth Count was done in conjunction with the PIT but as a separate effort. This year, Youth Count numbers will inform PIT data as a baseline number that should be tackled to end youth homelessness. Changes to the Youth Count from 2015 to 2017 included dividing the state into eight different regions, which would allow the survey to be more geographically diverse, Roccapriore added.
According to Bates, both censuses fall under Opening Doors, the first federal effort to end all types of homelessness. Opening Doors Connecticut, the state framework of the national initiative, plans to end state family and youth homelessness by 2020, she said.
“I’m glad to say that we’ve been putting a huge amount of effort for this to end chronic homelessness,” Bates said.
Among Connecticut Youth Count volunteers are members of the New Haven Youth Continuum — a local nonprofit dedicated to helping the state’s homeless youth and young adults — who were trained to conduct surveys that asked questions such as age, reason for homelessness and history with homeless shelters. These volunteers, who are homeless youth themselves, took to the streets to count the city’s homeless youth population.
“You could say I am safer in the woods than in a shelter,” said Jeanette Wilcox, one of the homeless volunteers. “That’s why the survey is good, because it shows how many people have been in these experiences. It indicates there’s a problem in the shelters.”
William Berrios, another local homeless volunteer, echoed Wilcox’s sentiment. He said that programs and surveys like the Youth Count redirect local homeless youth to the most helpful resources that they would not otherwise find.
Volunteer Shawn Thigpen agreed, adding that it is difficult for homeless youth to be directed to the right resources, as well as find jobs and stable housing conditions.
“We need to stop focusing on the fact that there’s homeless people here and [instead on] how much money we need to fix this,” Thigpen said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Guy added that youth volunteers were a critical asset to the Connecticut Youth Count due to their ability to locate and survey local homeless youth, as well as strategize for the next census. Their experiences, she said, are “informative” and “incredible.”
CCEH was founded in 1982.