Gathering Data on Homelessness: How the Annual PIT Counts Tell Portion of the Story

Every winter human service agencies and volunteers throughout the nation conduct a census of the homeless in their communities.  

This census, called the Point In Time (PIT) count, is conducted in the last 10 days of January each year, according to the guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The count includes individuals experiencing homelessness in a single night.

In Pennsylvania, the count took place during the overnight hours of Jan. 27 and Jan. 28. The count also helps determine where funding is given to help fight homelessness throughout the country.  

In normal years, the PIT count includes those individuals that are unsheltered and sheltered. Those sheltered include individuals living in emergency shelters, transitional housing situations and hotels through providing agencies. The count does not include anyone who may be couch-surfing or doubling up with family or friends.  

This year, however, the Eastern Pennsylvania Continuum of Care (CoC) was exempted by HUD from conducting the unsheltered count due to COVID-19. This group would normally include surveying those experiencing homeless at soup kitchens or warming shelters during the overnight hours.  

“HUD acknowledges that the PIT count for this year will not resemble that of PIT counts for previous years, due to COVID-19,” said Cattima Millsap, Director of Homeless Services at Third Street Alliance. 

While the PIT counts are an important part of counting the homeless population, in the Lehigh Valley, it’s not the only way to gather data on those experiencing homelessness. 

Alisa Baratta, Executive Director of Third Street Alliance, and Co-Chair of the Lehigh Valley Regional Homeless Advisory Board (LV RHAB), said that this year’s count will “significantly underrepresent the homeless population,” but better information is gathered through the Coordinated Entry System and the Homeless Management Information System in the Lehigh Valley. 

“The Coordinated Entry system gathers data such as zip codes, number of people and ages in households, health conditions, veterans’ status and other priority needs,” Baratta explained. “This data allows us to better analyze information and develop programming to meet the needs of people experiencing and at-risk for homelessness.” 

Information gathered from Coordinated Entry and PIT counts are used to put together an annual Gaps Analysis. The report helps to informs the CoC on where to prioritize funding for certain programs and informs how the agencies and nonprofits, such as Third Street Alliance, should focus their efforts.  

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