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Fighting homelessness with a model that works

January 30, 2013

On Monday, January 28, Sullivan County conducted its annual count of homeless people—both those with some kind of shelter and those without. This “census” data is compiled with the help of local government agencies and charitable organizations that provide various services to the homeless.

This count takes place nationally in cities, counties and rural areas on one day every year sometime during the last 10 days of January, usually one of the coldest periods of winter. The headcount is required for any regional or local body that applies for federal homeless assistance funds. This one-day snapshot—called a Point-in-Time (PIT) count—has its limitations. It cannot, for example, tell how many homeless people there are over the course of a year. However, when compared over time, a PIT count can help agencies assess whether homelessness is increasing or declining in their area.

The last few years show homelessness increasing in Sullivan County. In 2012, Sullivan County identified 465 adults and 202 children who were homeless, a total of 667 people. In 2011, the total was 520 homeless, and in 2010 it was 385. The 2013 census results will be released locally sometime in the weeks ahead.

In addition, the PIT count is further broken down into sub-categories to identify the chronically homeless, those with severe mental illness, chronic substance abusers, veterans, persons with HIV/AIDS, victims of domestic violence and, finally, unaccompanied children. Each jurisdiction also must do a Housing Inventory Count (HIC), which is a tally the total number of beds and housing units available for the homeless, including in emergency shelters, transitional housing, safe-haven housing and permanent supportive housing. All of these numbers are reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which in turn delivers an annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress.