Sunday, January 15, 2017

Beyond the PIT Count

Marion and Polk Counties are preparing for the 2017 Point-in-Time Count.  

Out in Polk County, they're getting ready for another Polk Community Connect event.  They're also going to hold a community forum on homelessness on January 19 out in Dallas (same location as the Connect). 

The PIT Count exists because the federal government seeks to allocate resources based on data.  To help us understand how we as a community might better meet the need for data, we've been corresponding with Jimmy Jones, who told us the PIT Count methodology used in Marion and Polk Counties, needs some attention.

He pointed us to Yakima County, WA, and "a pretty good story about the struggles Yakima County has had in getting good PIT Count numbers.  He said their population is about 250,000—which is smaller than what we have in Marion-Polk (about 400,000).  He told us, "It’s a very rural county in most regards, and getting folks in a central location to count them has been a struggle—not unlike what we’ve seen outside the urban footprint here in Marion-Polk." 

He also told us that, nationally, the counted homeless population in an urban area is between about .3 and .6 percent of the total population, and that using those figures, Marion-Polk should be counting between 1,200 to 2,400 homeless -- which are the “hard homeless”, meaning people living outside or in shelter.  He said, "assuming Marion-Polk has a roughly low-to-moderate rate (let’s say .38 percent), we should expect to count about 1,520."
"The actual number of 'hard homeless' is very likely closer to 2,000-2,200.  A full picture of homelessness in Marion-Polk would include people at all levels of vulnerability."  (Vulnerability is measured using intake assessment tools with names like "Vulnerability Index - Service Provider Data Assessment Tool" and "Vulnerability Assessment Tool", about which we've blogged previously.)

And, he said, for every "literally homeless" individual (Category 1 below), one should expect to find another in Category 3 or 4.

"I think we can say that, at any given point, there are between  4,000 and 4,500 homeless folks (under all definitions) in Marion-Polk, which would make the homeless exactly .1 percent of the total population, which is a very conservative and reasonable estimate."

Jimmy also told us that Yakima has managed to cut their numbers considerably for several reasons:
  1. They embraced coordinated entry and created a homeless network provider service.
  2. They partnered with the housing authority, which gave them 100 vouchers for homeless clients,
  3. They developed a good diversion plan, which targeted non-chronic populations (of temporarily homeless folks). 
If Jimmy has anything to say about it, Marion and Polk providers will be soon be embracing coordinated entry and working collaboratively to improve the way they deliver of homeless housing and services.  But, to do that, they require data.  To start with, they require data to demonstrate need, both the type and the severity, and data to support the allocation of additional resources.

But, good PIT Count numbers aren't sufficient to do that, Jimmy tells us.  So, since last October, he's been gathering other data by conducting intensive interviews with everyone seeking homeless services in our area.  He's assessed more than 450 residents (both counties), and expects to assess another 1,200 within the year.  You can read about his work and what he's finding here, or you can hear him tell you about it himself, by listening to this podcast of a recent interview with the team of KMUZ's Willamette Wakeup.  We promise that it will change the way you look at our "homeless problem."    

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