For one night every January, volunteers take to the streets of Marion County in an effort to capture an accurate picture of those experiencing homelessness.
This year's Point in Time count is planned for the evening of Jan. 30, but final data won't be available until late April or early May, according to Chelsea Haring-Cozzi, executive director of the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention.
The first PIT counts were conducted federally in 2005, and are now required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for Continuums of Care to receive funding.
Caleb Sutton, deputy director for CHIP, said the volunteers, led by the Professional Blended Street Outreach Team, would conduct both a sheltered and unsheltered population count.
Sutton said then team has been preparing for the count for some time by plotting out various canvassing locations ahead of time. After the count is complete, the Public Policy Institute will then step in and analyze the data.
Sutton said they had implemented several changes to the PIT count after receiving recommendations from a national consultant. One adjustment they have made is a shift in focus to counting young people experiencing homelessness.
Part of these reforms means focusing their counts on quadrants in the county instead of just known locations. Sutton said this helps them get a more accurate count.
The date for the yearly PIT count is picked months ahead of time, which means that weather conditions can vary drastically from year to year. For example, Sutton said the 2014 PIT count was conducted during the Polar Vortex storm when the temperature outside was -3 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, that year's total count of 1,897 stands at the highest of the last five years. In 2018, when it was 27 degrees Fahrenheit that number was 1,682. Less surprisingly, the 2014 unsheltered count of 74 was the lowest, while the 2018 number, 136, was highest.
With temperatures forecasted to be consistently below freezing in the days leading up to the count, a Winter Contingency Plan has currently been implemented by CHIP and the Wheeler Mission. Through March 15, when shelters reach capacity (regardless of weather condition), an overflow shelter located at Central Christian Church, 701 N. Delaware St., will serve as a temporary winter night overflow shelter for up to 70 men. This temporary shelter is operated under Wheeler’s direction.
During these colder months, men seeking shelter can check in at Wheeler Mission’s Shelter for Men, where they will be assigned to a bed or transported to an overflow shelter. The Shelter for Men, located at Market and East streets, has capacity for 400 individuals, with an additional 93 beds available at Wheeler Mission’s Men’s Residential Center. These shelters often exceed their capacity during the winter months—a problem that the overflow shelter at Central Christian Church aims to alleviate.
Women, including those with children seeking shelter through winter nights can check in at Wheeler Mission’s Center for Women and Children, 3208 E. Michigan St.
Members of the community interested in volunteering to help men, women and children experiencing homelessness during the winter months can visit www.wheelervolunteer.org for more information.