Kirstin Davis

How COVID-19 will impact the 2021 Point-in-Time Count

Kirstin Davis, Communications Manager, Neighborhood, Housing, and Human Services, 509.625.7773

Tuesday, January 12, 2021 at 2:44 p.m.

How COVID-19 will impact the 2021 Point-in-Time Count

For many years, the City has coordinated the national Point-in-Time Count on behalf of the Continuum of Care Board in Spokane County. As a recipient of federal and state funds supporting homeless services, our region is required to conduct Point-in-Time Counts annually.

The countywide Point-in-Time Count is essentially one 24-hour period census of the homeless population in Spokane County. This census is conducted every year during the last 10 days in January and designed to give every federally-funded community a snapshot of homelessness where they live. The 2021 Spokane County Point-in-Time Count will happen on January 28. The Point-in-Time Count is one of several reports in the effort to move people into safe and stable permanent housing, as the data gathered from this census shows much more than how many people are homeless in Spokane. We learn more about who is living in homelessness in Spokane County, why they are homeless, what barriers they are facing, as well as, key data points that can impact how new programs are designed. Combined with other data sources as part of the Community Management Information System (CMIS), we can see trends, target areas, and gather information about effective programs. The data from this count also helps the region secure funding for future services from state and federal sources and is used to complete grant applications as well as reports required by state and federal homeless service funders.

Point-in-Time Count and COVID-19

Due to COVID-19 precautions that meets HUD’s Methodology Guide, the 2021 census will be modified. Communities throughout Washington State, and the nation, are similarly adapting their census to best balance the need to have an accurate accounting of those that are experiencing homelessness against the very real health and safety risks of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result of the infection risk for all populations, including houseless individuals, volunteers, and staff, counts will only be conducted within shelters by staff. Unsheltered individuals will not be contacted by outreach staff or volunteers for the 2021 count.

Instead, data collected by street outreach programs/organizations that regardless of funding source, track outreach contacts and demographic information specific to those they encounter and entered into the CMIS database.

The CMIS is a regional database that includes street outreach projects that collect data, on a continual basis, on those that are currently living in an unsheltered situation. Street outreach teams work to build trust with those they encounter over time, which translates into connections that help ensure long-term success in stabilizing individuals. The purpose of these projects is not to simply get a ‘count’ of those that are experiencing unsheltered homelessness, although that is certainly one of the many metrics that is available, but to build a trusting relationship. The data collected by these teams is in turn used to strengthen our understanding of our unsheltered homeless population and is included as part of required federal and state reports and as importantly, help connect those living on the streets (i.e. places not meant for human habitation) to the Coordinated Assessment/Entry system for the purposes of housing and/or otherwise stabilizing them.

Caseworkers refer those encountered to the Spokane City and County Continuum of Care’s Coordinated Entry/Assessment project for assessment and housing placement. This helps ensure that the Continuum of Care is able to identify unsheltered homelessness trends, outside of the annual Point-in-Time Count, and connect this especially vulnerable population with stabilization services.

Last year’s count was inspiring because it brought a record number of community volunteers, it won’t be safe while in the midst of a pandemic. The most effective and safest way to support this effort in 2021 is to donate directly to service providers so they can secure the items and supplies they need.

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