What's so special about the PIT counts?

written by naehblog
January 27, 2011

A few days ago, Catherine talked about point-in-time counts.

As a researcher, I can’t begin to tell you how important that raw data is to both understanding homelessness and measuring whether or not we’re making any progress on the problem. In fact, point-in-time (PIT) counts were pivotal to The State of Homelessness report.

The PIT counts are a census conducted on a single night in January by communities across the U.S (over 450 communities participated for the last count). This PIT count is not the only data available on the homeless population; there’s also 12-month data collected by these communities. However, the PIT counts have a clear advantage over the 12-month data because the PIT data captures data on the unsheltered populations as well as sheltered populations.

But getting this wonderful data – now that’s another thing altogether.

Imagine for a minute the logistical nightmares of conducting the PIT counts across the boundaries of an entire community, block by block, in order to capture that unsheltered data. Despite participation in the census by a large contingent of volunteers and an expert group of homeless service workers, it still sounds challenging, doesn’t it? Each year, though, communities are continually learning from their experiences, and their methodologies for conducting the census continue to improve.

The reality is, while imperfect, the PIT counts provide the best available data on what the homeless population “looks like” on a given night. And the reality of increasing homeless counts among the total population and each subpopulation—families, family households, individuals, chronic, and unsheltered—is unsettling.

While The State of Homelessness in America provides a disquieting picture of increased homelessness, the report also marks a continuation of something started with the original Countsreport. That is, The State of Homelessness report will continue to monitor changes in homelessness and check on progress we are making as a nation on ending homelessness in America.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about the counts data. Leave them in the comments!