Each year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires Continuum of Care (CoC) organizations to count the number of people experiencing homelessness in the geographic area that they serve through the Point-in-Time (PIT) count.
Conducted locally by The Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness during the last ten days in January, the PIT count includes people served in shelter programs, living outdoors unsheltered and a variety of other situations where they do not have permanent housing. The effort involves mobilizing staff and volunteers who canvass the streets and other settings to identify and count people experiencing homelessness. An app, Counting US, prompts enumerators through a series of questions including the name of the individual, general location they stay, gender, age, veteran status and other demographics.
Data collected during the PIT count is critical to effective planning and performance management toward the goal of ending homelessness for each community and for the nation as a whole. Counting those who are unsheltered ensures that many of the people with the highest needs are taken into account in community planning.
Through the PIT count, communities identify important data on the general homeless population and subpopulations, including veterans, families, chronically homeless individuals, and youth. These counts help us all identify where progress is being made and where redoubling of effort is required, both geographically and for different subpopulations.
Most importantly, communities can work with outreach teams, and healthcare and service providers to use the count as an opportunity to connect people experiencing homelessness with housing and vital services. Each year members of Free Hot Soup Kansas City and other local non-profit and community lead groups volunteer their time and supplies to make this successful. By making sandwiches, burritos, hot chocolate and more we visit known camps throughout the city to deliver food, blankets, coats and toiletries all while collecting information and sharing kind words. As a member of the community actively engaged in supporting the houseless population we use the network of trust we’ve built with this population to get as accurate of a count as possible in the hopes more federal and state money will be allocated to fight homelessness in Kansas City.
Last night was one such count and I met up with a group of volunteers at Hope Faith at 7th and Virginia in KC. We broke into groups and were assigned known camps in the area paring experienced participants with those new to the PIT. I was assigned to Winner Park on the East side of town near Independence and worked with some locals who regularly served meals there. Due to the frigid temperatures and late hour we struggled to find people to interview at first. Eventually I lead a group of enumerators to the nearby church where after some probing questions we discovered a number of people who were being allowed to live in the basement rent free. They were in the middle of preparing a meal and we happily shared our provisions and explained our intensions. Once such person agreed to direct us to a nearby camp.
And on it went all through the night approaching cautiously when we didn’t have a connection and building trust to find more and more people. A few cases of handwarmers and a hundred pounds of food lighter we ended up at a large encampment late in the evening. After being introduced to the spokesperson/leader of the camp we were given permission to interview the other tenants. Peppered through the woods were ramshackle cabins pieced together with assorted wood, brick and plastic pieces. A generator hummed in the background and you could see extension cords snaking outward in a spiderweb to each tent, tepee, igloo and sleeping bag.
To my surprise I heard someone yell out my name through the dark. Upon approach I recognized a small middle aged woman covered in mismatched clothes but giving a huge grin as she went in for a hug. I recognized her from when she lived in my part of town but had lost touch with her when she moved into a shelter last year. She introduced me to some of her campmates as the “propane guy” and we caught up on her latest struggles and successes.
And there we stood in the freezing cold, in the dark surrounded by items that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill but collectively came together to make this community of friends. Around midnight I got a message from a new connection of mine stating that the warming center was out of bottled water and they had no idea what they would do in the morning. I drove to the church where we store our supplies and loaded up several cases of water. Upon delivering it I found that 2 other kind souls had done the same to keep the center stocked for at least another couple days. From there I got a call that a camp close to my home had run out of propane so after a quick stop at my residence I made one last delivery before finally crawling in bed at 2:00 AM.