Hello Coordinated Entry Partners, Community partner agencies, volunteers, and others:
Here at Community Action we’ve gotten a lot of questions recently from partners and community members asking about Point In Time Count for 2021 (which historically happens the last week of January and has active planning meetings starting in July of the previous year). I’m sorry it’s taken this long to get any real information out to you all.
This is a long message. I apologize for that – but I wanted folks to understand the reasoning and know that we did not make this decision lightly. The “too long, didn’t read” summary is that we will NOT be conducting the unsheltered count that normally utilizes volunteers to conduct magnet events and street outreach. Read on for more info.
Obviously, the current pandemic poses some major issues and would require a completely different strategy. I think we all hoped that we’d be back to “normal” by now – but that just hasn’t happened – and it’s pretty clear we’ll still be facing a lot of risk by late January.
HUD has finally announced that the count WILL go on – but with major changes.
There are always two different components of the count:
One is the “Sheltered” count, which happens behind the scenes. Since homeless service providers pretty much all utilize HMIS, Commerce is able to just pull already-existing data to get an accurate count of who’s enrolled in various services on the night of the count. We also work with partner agencies who may NOT use HMIS, but still offer homeless services, to make sure their work is counted. THIS WILL STILL HAPPEN THIS YEAR, but does not require any additional coordination or volunteer efforts.
The second component – and the one that volunteers, partner agencies and the community is more aware of – and how many of our partners/volunteers are actively involved, is the UNSHELTERED count. This is the one we spend months planning. It’s the magnet events, trying to draw our homeless neighbors to meals and services so that we can more easily document the number of folks needing services. While Community Action leads the overall Point in Time Count efford, those special events are generally planned and facilitated by partners and volunteers. It’s the street outreach, the trekking out into the woods, looking for encampments, striking up conversations with random strangers in our local parks, etc. It’s the folks sleeping in their cars, tents, under bridges. It’s also the part that requires lenghty face-to-face contact to engage with folks and fill out the surveys, that so many of you have volunteered to collect each year. It’s also the various service providers who graciously complete surveys with their clients during the course of their regular work, whether or not they are exclusively serving homeless populations. It takes a huge amount of time and a huge number of volunteers, which all have to be recruited and trained and provided with the tools to do the work.. It’s the part that just isn’t safe right now. THIS part of the count WILL NOT HAPPEN in Skagit this year.
HUD has decided that the sheltered count will continue, but the unsheltered count will be optional. For several reasons, we have decided to opt out in Skagit. Our primary reasons for this are as follows:
- We normally begin planning in July. This is when things are normal. We have been waiting and waiting, and pushing and prodding, for a decision so that we could plan how to facilitate the count amid the vast restrictions and social distancing protocol that is in place. We did not get this decision from HUD until last week. Recruiting volunteers, soliciting donations of giveaway items, planning where to send outreach teams, etc. all takes an incredible amount of planning time, even though we essentially do the same thing each year. We can’t do any part of this the same way as usual this year. There can’t be magnet events. We aren’t supposed to be in close proximity to people outside our household. It is not reasonable to try to come up with a completely new strategy to conduct this count with a 6 week timeframe when it usually takes us 6 months to plan a “normal” event.
- We do not believe the data would be representative of the need. We already have REALLY GREAT data in Skagit. Better than a lot of communities. We already have the ability to present extremely reliable data to grantors, to track the request/use of services throughout the year, to provide demographics for those experiencing homelessness – thats all in our current data. We know that PITC is just one piece of a much larger data puzzle. One of the main things we do with PITC data is compare the data each year. Seeing how this one piece of data compares to itself year after year, helps document homeless trends. We know that comparison will be “off” this year. Even if we held a modified count, it would be VERY different – which means the data would be very different. That alone really reduces the value of that point-in-time data. Knowing it’s comparing apples to oranges makes it not terribly useful this year.
- We feel that safety is paramount. We would be putting staff, volunteers AND our homeless neighbors at increased risk of contracting COVID if we were to do any kind of meaningful count. If we dont do face to face surveys, then we aren’t getting good data. If we “just” visually count people, the data won’t be good – or comparable to any other year – so what would we really use it for? We already have street outreach teams engaging with our homeless populations to make sure they are able to access the services that are available to them.
In summary, there is just a LOT more risk than value in conducting a modified count. If we felt the data we would obtain would be more impactful, we might take more risks. But since we already HAVE good data, since we don’t believe we’d obtain “good data” by attempting to conduct a modified count, and since we want to keep staff, volunteers and our homeless community safe – we have opted to NOT participate in the unsheltered count this year.
In closing, I want to thank everyone who has assisted in the past. I’d also like to thank those who have reached out this year, asking why they haven’t heard anything yet. We know you would have stepped up and helped made it happen. And we know you’ll want to be involved next year, when (hopefully) things resume to some semblance of normal. Until then, please stay safe and advocate in other ways. Our community appreciates your involvement!
Coordinated Entry Manager
Community Action of Skagit County