The Homeless Point-in-Time (PIT) Count helps us understand why people experience homelessness.
Every day in Pierce County, thousands of people sleep in cars, shelters or on the street. They are someone's mom, dad, child or friend. Do you ever wonder how they lost everything and became homeless? We answer this question and more every year through the PIT Count.
Save the date for the 2024 Homeless Point-in-Time (PIT) Count!
The 2024 PIT Count will take place January 25-26, 2024. Check this website for updates about when to register, how you can help, and what donations are needed.
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
2023 PIT Count Results
On January 26, Pierce County leaders, service providers, and volunteers surveyed people experiencing homelessness during the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count. This homeless PIT count is a one-day snapshot that captures the characteristics and situations of people living here without a home. We counted 2,148 people on our streets and in our shelters, but roughly 6,500 were connected to our homeless crisis response system during the same time. The lower PIT count number reflects the challenge of counting a large, geographically distributed unsheltered population over a 24-hour period.
While there was an increase in homelessness compared to last year, these numbers also reflect a new methodology. Last year we used a calculation that is closer to the literal count of homelessness and did not include people relying on temporary solutions, like stay at a relative's house. Now, we measure system utilization – the amount of people accessing services within our homeless crisis response system. Many people in the larger count are not literally homeless, but they are seeking services and may be at risk of experiencing homelessness. By including these people in the count, our hope is to reinforce the message that an end to homelessness also requires adequate support for those at risk.
Each year thousands of people are helped through the homeless crisis response system, but the increase in service utilization helps us understand how many people are on the verge of homelessness. Unfortunately, this increase has been a common trend over the years. Affordable housing is hard to find, making a living wage can be difficult, and with inflation and poverty on the rise, people are entering the homeless crisis response system faster than those exiting into housing.
This year we saw numbers of adult survivors of domestic violence decrease on the night of the count, but that decrease is not reflected in our Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). We counted veterans, households with children, chronically homeless individuals and more. We found that more than 1 in 5 are over the age of 55. About 41% identified as Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC), but census data (ACS survey, 2021) shows that the BIPOC population of Pierce County is closer to 38%. This overrepresentation is an example of how homelessness is disproportionately experienced among historically marginalized groups.
Many people experiencing homelessness in Pierce County stay in emergency shelter, which can include overnight shelters, safe parking sites, converted hotels, or tiny home villages. Although shelters are suitable for some people, others don’t feel safe in a shelter sleeping next to strangers. Some prefer to live out of doors on streets, in a tent, etc. Six percent of people interviewed lived in their cars.
Every year our data shows that most people lived in Pierce County before experiencing homelessness, and 2023 was no different. When people lose housing, they tend to stay in the community they lived in previously. Interestingly, for the first time in over 6 years, the number of people coming from outside Pierce County decreased.
Although the number of people experiencing homelessness has increased over the years, since the last count in 2022, housing programs and services have expanded, providing vital resources to get people out of the elements and inside. The following represent new programs, services or initiatives that have improved our homeless crisis response system:
Historic investments in affordable housing
- Roughly $17M was awarded for the development and preservation of affordable housing that will result in 335 newly built units and 17 preserved units for low-income residents.
Unified Regional Approach
- We’ve taken steps towards developing a Unified Regional Approach, which coordinates local governments, agencies and community groups to end homelessness.
Rental Assistance and Eviction Prevention
- Last year we spent over $56M in rental assistance to keep 9,699 households from being evicted. An additional $6M was made available for the new Eviction Prevention program for households behind on rent and at risk of eviction.
Additional Shelter Beds
- Over $13M is available for three shelter projects that would add over 160 beds to the current inventory of 1,600 beds in our homeless crisis response system.
Right of Way Initiative
- We collaborated with the Washington State Department of Transportation to help residents move from interstate right of ways to safer housing opportunities, creating 300 additional shelter beds that will operate for at least 2.5 years.
Youth Homeless Point-in-Time Count
- We conducted our first Youth Homeless Point-in-Time Count in October 2022 to prioritize youth and young adults experiencing homelessness.
Pierce County Village
- Pierce County Council recently released funding for the Pierce County Village, a project that will provide permanent homes for a minimum of 250 chronically homeless individuals (people with disabling conditions and who have been continuously homeless for more than a year or have at least four episodes of homelessness totaling one year or more in the last three years).