CSH Staff Reflections on Point in Time Count

Taryn Boland, Communications Manager

CSH’s role in the annual Point in Time Count varies across the country. In Indiana staff coordinate the count’s effort through the 100,000 Homes Campaign, in other states staff work with partners in facilitating the count and here in New Jersey, CSH is the data collection point. As a New Jersey resident, I volunteered to participate in the count in my hometown of Jersey City. If you’re not familiar with my city, it’s rather large for our small state with a population of approximate 270,000.  Jersey City is known for its many neighborhoods including the downtown where there are waterfront condominiums with multi-million dollar views of Manhattan. I mention this as the backdrop of my experience.

I conducted surveys of individuals staying in St. Lucy’s shelter, a shelter on the outskirts of downtown and one that thousands of commuters to and from Manhattan unknowingly pass everyday. The ages of people I spoke to ranged from early 20’s to mid 70’s, many of whom only survive on their welfare income. I was struck by how small that seemed living in such a high-cost of living area.

I was overwhelmed by the sense that even though I have worked in the affordable and supportive housing industries for many years, my connection to the people who live on the margins or who are homeless, right in my neighborhood, is still so tenuous. Moreover, my experience highlighted the need for supportive housing.

Several other of my coworkers participated in the PITC in their states, here’s what they experienced.

Emily Mueller – CSH Intern, Detroit

Participating in the Point in Time Count in Detroit was a great way to launch my internship with CSH. I can’t think of a better way to begin understanding how important supportive housing is, then to talk with people experiencing homelessness. Each conversation I had was a reminder that in advocating for systems reform it is essential to remember the individuals whose lives are most impacted by this work. The PITC is not just about the numbers it is about effectively serving those individuals most in need.

Jamie Ewing – Cook County, Illinois
It is important to understand it was a bitterly cold when the PITCs for both Chicago and Cook County were completed, so understandably there were fewer people on the streets. There is anecdotal evidence that when it gets so cold friends and family are more willing to open their doors, cars, garages, etc. to those who are homeless.

The Cook County PITC was completed over 3 days as it also incorporated the initiation of Cook County’s 100,000 Homes Campaign. PITC surveys were combined with a Vulnerability Index (VI) survey to not only get a count of homeless people but to also assess them for potential housing based on their vulnerability.  All in all, Loren Seeger of the Cook County Alliance to End Homelessness and Teri Curran of West Suburban PADS organized and helped execute a very successful PITC at the same time as successfully establishing the first 100,000 Homes Campaign in Cook County. The conditions were extreme but the volunteers still came out and were remarkably dedicated.

Alison Recca-Ryan – New Jersey 
Interestingly, I participated in the PIT at Project Homeless Connect in Vineland – and while I completed probably 50 surveys, and there were maybe 8 of us doing surveys – not one of the persons I interviewed was actually homeless.  We still completed the surveys, indicating that the person was in permanent housing (which oftentimes was a room, or a trailer). What the surveys showed was that this is a group of individuals and families who are living on the brink of homelessness.  They are frequenting the soup kitchens, have income that ranges from $300 - $1200 a month, and they are paying often 85-90% of their income for rent; they have multiple needs including mental health, substance use, chronic illnesses, inability to afford medication, and no transportation.  Vets were included in this group and they don’t even have the resources to get to the vet center.  For many of these individuals who are on SSI, and paying 85% of their check towards rent – the difference in their lives if they had a Section 8 would be monumental.

Stephanie Sideman – Indiana
CSH led the Indianapolis street count as part of the 100,000 Homes Campaign Indy Registry Week. This involved early morning surveying of people sleeping outside between the hours of 4AM and 7AM. From a tornado watch and flood warning on the first day to five degree weather the following two days, our volunteers experienced some of the challenges that people sleeping outside face on a regular basis. On many occasions, team members commented that they were in pain due to the freezing weather and could not imagine braving these elements for any prolonged period of time. Yet they met individuals with cancer, heart disease, HIV, and other illnesses sleeping in placed not meant for human habitation. , One important notion that is part of this national grassroots campaign is that someday, chronic homelessness will be a thing of the past.

Molly Rysman – Los Angeles
I spent three nights in Skid Row for the PITC. Skid Row was one of 17 communities in Los Angeles that opted into serving as a Count Plus community and combining the 100,000 Homes street registry with the PITC. We surveyed individuals we encountered on the streets using the vulnerability index. This was the fourth time that we conducted a street registry in Skid Row and what struck me the most was how powerful it was to bump into individuals that we had surveyed in our first registry in 2007 through the Project 50 effort who have now been in housing multiple years. I ran into two people I knew from Project 50 who are both doing great in permanent supportive housing. It was really helpful to have the juxtaposition of people who have gotten off the streets with the new people we were surveying because there is tremendous need Skid Row, but that juxtaposition gave me hope that despite the scale of the problem we are making progress.

Janis Ikeda – New Jersey
I had the opportunity to participate in the Youth Count in Jersey City. Our objective was to find and survey homeless and unstably housed 18-24 year-olds. We learned a lot of lessons in this first year that I hope will inform the process of developing a plan for conducting the count next year. Most importantly, we realized that the strategy we use to locate and survey adults (which includes distributing surveys at major gathering points for the homeless and sending street teams to areas around the city where homeless individuals gather), did not translate into success in finding homeless or unstably housed youth.

Jennifer Trepinksy - New York
I joined tens of thousands of New Yorkers to walk thousands of miles of sidewalks and subway stations in my very first annual HOPE count street survey.  Even though NYC Department of Homeless Services coordinates the count every year, I was still impressed with how well organized my staging area was – an elementary school in Boreum Hill, Brooklyn.  I was in good company for the count.  The four others in my group had all done the HOPE count before: one worked for the NYC Department of Health; one for NYC Department of Youth and Child Development; and two others worked for Common Ground, having done professional homeless outreach.  The work each of my teammates does on a daily basis to serve New Yorkers is inspiring and sharing the late evening with them made me feel like a real part of the New York City community.  Though we didn’t run into any homeless in our two hour walk in the “low-density” Park Slope neighborhood, I know that our work was still valuable to the overall survey and I feel like more of a New Yorker because of it.

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