PIT Count – Annual sheltering survey is about more than just the data

March 2023 Posted in Community

By Melissa Wagoner 

On the last Wednesday of January each year volunteers across the state come together to provide government officials with a snapshot of the current unhoused population. The purpose of which is, according to Sheltering Silverton Program Director Megan Smith, “that statewide every year we can have a better idea about what’s needed for allocation in shelters.”

Shelters like the one in Silverton where, this year, those who are currently unhoused were welcomed into the Resource Center for a hot meal and a short conversation with one of four Point in Time (PIT) Count volunteers.

“We are lucky, living in a small town, to be able to put out the word and collect [numbers] here at the Resource Center,” Smith said. “In other places volunteers go out to campsites.”

Which was the case in Scotts Mills where, despite the town’s small size, volunteers were asked to hit the streets looking for places where unhoused individuals might have spent the night.

“I went to all the places that we have in the past had people staying and checked in to see if they were there,” first-time PIT Count volunteer Robin Fournier said. “I was surprised because I did not find anyone to count. We have had off and on in the past where people are staying in their cars and such around the area but I was not able to find anyone.”

In fact, none of the city’s three volunteers were able to locate a single unhoused individual.

“Next year I will volunteer again and go sign up for a different area so that I can be of more assistance,” Fournier said. She is the current Scotts Mills city manager. “Hoping I can not only serve Scotts Mills but maybe also Silverton.”

The count in Silverton, though it fluctuates from year to year, has yet to drop to zero.

“We have certainly seen the numbers go up and down,” Sheltering Silverton’s Founder and Executive Director, Sarah White confirmed, noting that while last year’s count was only five this year, “we officially counted 21, but we know several more.”

It’s impossible to achieve complete accuracy, especially considering the first question PIT Count volunteers are told to ask is, “Where did you sleep last night?” And the answer for many of those who are unhoused is – it’s complicated.

“[T]here are about twice that many who are sheltered but homeless, meaning that they are doubled up in homes, couch surfing, or living in RVs temporarily,” White said.

That’s one reason the PIT Count – a requirement by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for any community seeking federal homelessness assistance funds – is of less help to organizations like Sheltering Silverton, who instead rely on their own awareness of “sheltered and unsheltered homelessness”.

“Silverton has a close-knit houseless community as well as a much smaller population than larger urban centers,” White pointed out. “In essence, we know who is out there. Currently most of the people who camp around town are coming in to access our day services or our shelter and are known to us.”

But that doesn’t mean the PIT Count isn’t worthwhile. In years past Sheltering Silverton has used the event as a way to not only provide the federal government with necessary data but also provide its clients with an increased level of services.

“Our PIT Count event was much simpler this year than in the past,” White said, citing staffing changes and a need to get this winter’s warming shelter up and running as the main reasons for the decreased level of care. “We plan to bring back our Connect event next year in which we bring in service providers, personal care providers, pet care, etc. to a large community space. This year we simply extended our operating hours, provided three great meals, and connected with folks in our space.”

That’s not to say that this year’s count didn’t go well.

“We were really pleased to connect with clients who haven’t engaged in services for a while,” White said.

That connection, more than the data itself, is what Sheltering Silverton is all about.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.