Annual Homeless Count Coming Up, Volunteers Needed

Jan 19, 2018

The Escarosa Coalition on the Homeless prepares for its annual count of individuals in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.
Credit Escarosa Coalition on the Homeless

The 2018 Point-in-Time count of homeless persons soon will take place in communities across the country.

Conducted on a cold night in January, the annual survey is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD.

The Escarosa Coalition on the Homeless has chosen Wednesday, January 24 for its count of such individuals in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. The Okaloosa Walton Continuum of Care (Homelessness & Housing Alliance) will conduct its count on Friday, Jan. 26. 

“We think it should not be so difficult to count the homeless,” said Mya Anderson, PIT count coordinator for ECOH.

To lighten the load and focus more on the actual count, the organization is putting off their accompanying U-Count Services event until a later date.

Anderson says they’ve also changed the survey form to make the process easier.

“It should be that we should be able to go out and interact with them, not make it seem like they’re being interviewed, you know. And, get our point across and count them and let them continue on with their day.”

In making changes to the survey, ECOH worked within federal guidelines –adding and subtracting questions - to ensure that those remaining get to most pertinent information.

“The questions as far as where did you sleep last night, HUD regulation, so had to keep that,” Anderson said. “What level of schooling did you go to? We didn’t  need that, so, we could take that off and help them understand the HUD regulation questions a lot better.”

According to Anderson, HUD also made a few adjustments to the survey form.

“There is a question, now, there’s no more you male or female,” Anderson said. “Now, it’s female, male, transgendered from male to female, transgendered from women (female) to male. So, it was questions that had to be added on as well.”

Another change from HUD requires Continuums of Car (CoCs) collect data on survivors of domestic violence, who may be experiencing temporary homelessness.

The PIT survey will take place at local shelters and community organizations that serve the needs of those who are homeless. But, this year, there’s a shift back toward getting an accurate count of those who literally sleep under the stars.

“So, this count, like any other count, in our history is very, very important, particularly the unsheltered,” said John Johnson, executive director of the Escarosa Coalition on the Homeless.

“If you look at any street corner, the aesthetic of it is that it gives to increased homeless. But, we don’t know that. We really don’t know that, because panhandling in our community is a big problem.”

Volunteers help with the 2017 Point-In-Time homeless survey in the Pensacola area.
Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media

Johnson believes that panhandling is counter-productive to the work of the coalition, which counted a total of 758 homeless people in 2017. That number is down from 798 in 2016 and 1,014 three years ago.

Besides, Johnson points out that there’re a lot of questions to be answered about this particular segment of the homeless population.

“So, we want to be able to count those on the streets to see if we have a transient population coming through or is this a steady homeless problem that we have in our community. So counting the unsheltered is (going to) be crucial.”

To ensure a more thorough tally, the Escarosa Coalition on the Homeless is seeking as many as 100 volunteers to help with the annual PIT count.

Anderson, survey coordinator, says a contingent of that size will leave their experienced staffers to complete the more delicate task of interviewing those who actually live on the streets.

“The more volunteers that we have, we will be able to free up ECOH employees to go out to the encampments that have been trained properly on how to deal with the encampments, the street homeless clients,” said Anderson. The greater community involvement means volunteers will be able to work the in the more controlled environments at the shelter sites.

To volunteer, individuals have to be at least 18 years of age, able to read the survey questions, and complete a very short PowerPoint tutorial that’s now available online for convenience.

Given that the Escarosa PIT count is Jan. 24, those who wish to help are asked to register right away. For more information or to sign up for the Pensacola area survey, visit the Escarosa Coalition on the Homeless Facebook page, email or call at 850-435-4051.

For details about the Okaloosa-Walton count, visit the Homelessness & Housing Alliance Facebook page.