Every year in January, Pierce County Human Services conducts the annual Homeless Point-in-Time (PIT) Count to survey people experiencing homelessness. While the count is only a snapshot of homelessness at one ‘point-in-time,’ the information collected is used to plan programs, review trends of homelessness over time, better understand why people experience homelessness and more.
As we continue to respond to the COVID pandemic, and particularly planning supports and services for people experiencing homelessness, Pierce County and the Continuum of Care (CoC) will be taking a different approach to the Homeless PIT Count. It normally consists of two parts: (1) a count of unsheltered homeless, people living outside and (2) a count of sheltered homeless, people living in shelters or other congregate settings. Due to challenges stemming from the pandemic, we will only conduct a count of sheltered homeless this year.
The Homeless PIT Count typically involves hundreds of volunteers and, in following public health guidance, we simply cannot risk the safety of everyone involved, especially people experiencing homelessness, as well as volunteers, and others.
Like other Washington counties, we received approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the State Department of Commerce to cancel the unsheltered count. Although it will be different this year, data collected from the count will still be submitted to HUD and the State. The count is an important tool for evaluating homelessness, but we will continue to utilize data from our local Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to inform our community response.
What is the Homeless Point-In-Time Count?
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Washington State Department of Commerce require communities to conduct a one-day Point-In-Time (PIT) Count to survey individuals experiencing homelessness. PIT Counts are one source of data among many that help us understand the magnitude and characteristics of people who are homeless in our community.
The Point-In-Time (PIT) Count is a one-day snapshot that captures the characteristics and situations of people living here without a home. The PIT Count includes both sheltered individuals (temporarily living in emergency shelters or transitional housing) and unsheltered individuals (those sleeping outside or living in places that are not meant for human habitation).
The annual PIT Count happens the last Friday in January, and is carried out by volunteers who interview people and asks where they slept the night before, where their last residence was located, what may have contributed to their loss of housing, and disabilities the individual may have. It also asks how long the individual has been homeless, age and demographics, and whether the person is a veteran and/or a survivor of domestic violence.
Like all surveys, the PIT Count has limitations. Results from the Count are influenced by the weather, by availability of overflow shelter beds, by the number of volunteers, and by the level of engagement of the people we are interviewing. Comparisons from year to year should be done with those limitations in mind.
"The Point-In-Time Count provides the homeless assistance community with the data needed to understand the number and characteristics of persons who are homeless at one point in time."
-U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development