About Point In Time
Point-in-Time (PiT) count is a survey that counts the number of people experiencing homelessness in a specific area at a specific point in time. Teams of trained staff go to particular locations to identify and count people without housing that night. PiT counts provide a snapshot of homelessness and can measure the effectiveness of the community’s response to homelessness over time, when conducted consistently. PiT focuses on the two most visible forms of homelessness: unsheltered and sheltered.
Steps To Collect Point In Time Data
- Length: 2 – 12 months.
- Create a stakeholder map and involve as many community members as possible, workers from all community sectors and beyond.
- Early in the planning phase, it is helpful to identify a lead organization to coordinate the logistics of the Point in Time Count. Involve citizen and non-government stakeholder participation, including people with the lived experience of homelessness at each step, to ensure that principles of inclusive, community-owned data are incorporated.
- Consider whether your Point-in-Time count should be expanded into a Registry Week to collect more actionable data on homelessness.
- Carefully consider the date selected. Counts occur at night or in the early morning when people will most likely be sleeping.
- Choose a Point-in-Time count method. Methods include:
- Full coverage: an entire geographic area canvassed to enumerate everyone sleeping unsheltered.
- Known location: counts will cover “hot spots,” or areas where homelessness is congregated in some sparsely populated regions. These areas range from encampment sites to subway systems.
- Sampling-based approach: involves surveying areas within a particular location and extrapolating the data to other sites not surveyed. This approach is best in places where people without shelter are evenly dispersed.
- Known locations & sampling combination approach: a combined approach that works best in communities where people experiencing homelessness tend to be concentrated in specific locations and less commonly found in others
- Determine whether to include a capture-recapture component
- Reach out to organizations providing housing services in each precinct of the geographic area to collect information about precise locations where people sleep so that an appropriate number of teams can be allocated accordingly. Consider including organizations that work with people experiencing “hidden homelessness” (e.g., couch surfers, people living with friends or relatives, families that are living doubled up)
- Determine how teams are needed and assign them to a particular geographic area.
- Prepare team surveying kits in advance. Kits can include items such as a cash gratuity for respondents completing a survey, maps, a list of contact details for the team and HQ contact number for troubleshooting/hourly check-in calls, surveyor lanyards, flashlights, pens, clipboards, simple first aid supplies and, of course, a sufficient supply of each type of form based on intelligence previously gathered about the designated survey location.
- Length: 2 to 4 hours.
- This method is executed during the night and early hours of the morning when people are settling down to sleep.
- To the extent possible, enumerators should connect people experiencing homelessness to housing and services that evening.
- Data analysts should review the data collected to analyze and publish information on the total number of people experiencing different types of homelessness, including demographic characteristics, housing and services provided, and other relevant trends and information.
- These reports should be used by stakeholders to determine additional funding, housing, and service provision needs.
PiT counts are typically an undercount of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness and fail to capture “hidden homelessness.”
Observational counts may not accurately reflect the demographics of the individual counted.
PiT counts only show a snapshot of homelessness on one day, not the entire population over time.
Often, volunteers without professional experience are used to conduct counts, which raises ethical concerns and negatively affects data collection accuracy.
Chicago Family & Support Services
The 2022 count saw an increase in the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness using the CTA for shelter. Based on feedback from outreach staff regarding this increase before the count, researchers updated the methodology to try to increase the accuracy of CTA counts.
Everyone Counts: St. John’s Homeless Point-in-Time Count 2016
One hundred and one trained volunteers and front-line staff
conducted surveys with individuals experiencing homelessness on the day and night of the St. John’s count. Participating youth-serving shelters and service providers conducted surveys over the following five days with youth who were homeless on November 30. In addition, 21 facilities and programs provided administrative data (e.g., observed age, gender, and ethnicity) for clients affected by homelessness who used their services on the night of the count.