The point-in-time count is a nationwide survey required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); it takes place every other year and captures data about the number of unhoused or unsheltered individuals in a community and their personal attributes such as age, race, gender and veteran status.
The numbers are collected at a countywide level across Oregon to give HUD an idea of where to allocate funds based on need.
For some communities, conducting the count looks like a one-night, feet-on-the-ground project where volunteers seek out unhoused individuals, either by interaction or observation, and take note of where they slept on a single night.
However, other communities, such as Multnomah County, conduct longer surveys in which volunteers are out in the community for multiple days asking homeless individuals where they slept on that specific night.
This year, Multnomah County’s key night is Jan. 23. Volunteers will be surveying homeless people about that night through Jan. 29.
The Joint Office for Homeless Services, a collaboration between Portland and Multnomah County, conducts the area’s point-in-time count. This year, Portland State University’s Regional Research Institute is also helping to lead the count.
The Joint Office for Homeless Services’ spokesman, Denis Theriault, said the weeklong survey can make numbers more accurate.
“We learn more about who’s outside and who they are when we can talk to as many people as possible,” Theriault said. “It makes our numbers better and actually helps us design policies and budget allocations to meet the need. The better we understand that need, the better those decisions are.”
Theriault said the count is an important tool, but it doesn’t tell the full story of homelessness in the area.
“It tells us how many people on a given night are outside, but it doesn’t tell the community how many people over the course of the year experience homelessness. There are thousands more people a year than we count in one night who actually come through our system,” he said.
“We served about 30,000 people last fiscal year through all of our services — whether that’s shelter, rent assistance for prevention, helping people off the street and keeping them in housing, work services, all of that.”
Multnomah County’s last Point-in-Time count, in 2017, recorded a total of 4,177 homeless people — both unsheltered and sheltered — in the area.
Marion and Polk counties historically conducted a one-day count like many other counties in the region, said Ashley Hamilton, associate program director of The ARCHES Project — a department of the mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, which helps run the Salem area’s Point-In-Time count.
This year, Hamilton said, the rural areas of Marion and Polk counties, outside of Salem and Keizer, are looking to do a more extended count.
“For Polk County, for example, their methodology is they have already begun going out and collecting the bulk of the survey information like dates of birth and disabilities,” Hamilton said.
“Then the day of the count they have a fixed-site location called the Polk County Connect and they are shuttling individuals from all parts of Polk County to the Connect and the only question that will need to be asked on site that day is ‘Where did you sleep the night of the 29th?’”
This new, more extended surveying strategy will hopefully give the area more accurate numbers, Hamilton said.
Hamilton said ARCHES is still on the lookout for volunteers in Salem for mobile teams, who will be in the community talking with unsheltered people and stationary teams at survey sites on Jan. 30.
“It’s going to take a community to solve unsheltered homelessness, particularly chronic homelessness, so this is an opportunity for the community to come together,” Hamilton said.