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"PIT" counts give a snapshot census of homelessness across Michigan and the country

Homeless Trust help line supervisor Estebania De La Cruz records numbers and location of people spending the night on the street, as a team from the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust tallies the number of people living unsheltered in downtown Miami, in the early morning hours of Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. The Point-In-Time count, conducted annually on a night in late January, is a nationwide census of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness, mandated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Rebecca Blackwell/AP
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AP
Homeless Trust help line supervisor Estebania De La Cruz records numbers and location of people spending the night on the street, as a team from the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust tallies the number of people living unsheltered in downtown Miami, in the early morning hours of Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. The Point-In-Time count, conducted annually on a night in late January, is a nationwide census of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness, mandated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In the last ten days of January, volunteers in twenty Michigan municipalities pick a night to count the homeless populations in their communities.

It’s known as the Point in Time or “PIT” count of sheltered and unsheltered populations. In Detroit, volunteers will be out from 9 p.m. Wednesday night until 2 a.m. Thursday morning. In Calhoun County they’ll be out from 9 p.m. until midnight. Kalamazoo County ran its count last week.

Among the volunteers hitting the streets in Detroit is Richard J. Monocchio. He’s the Department of Housing and Urban Development Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing. HUD uses the count for its Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.

Monocchio said he believes that “first and foremost, every single American deserves a roof over their head.”

How does the PIT Count, a survey taking place during a single night, do that?

“The PIT count helps us on the ground, dealing directly with people who are impacted,” Monocchio said. “It's so important to deal with real people to understand their problems, because the only way to solve this is holistically with permanent housing, but also the other supports that individuals need and families need.”

Whitney Wardell is the President and CEO at Neighborhoods Inc. of Battle Creek. Wardell says 22 volunteers will go out in teams of two and three on Wednesday night to count unsheltered people sleeping in encampments, cars, or abandoned buildings. The organization will also collect data from shelters to get an idea of how many people are unhoused in Calhoun County.

Last year was cold. The numbers reflect that. Wardell says volunteers counted 29 unsheltered households, and another 169 households in shelters in 2023. Wardell said households can be couples, a parent and a child, a traditional family, or other groups.

What does she expect this year?

“I definitely foresee more people possibly being out and having higher numbers this year, simply because our weather is not as extreme as it has been in previous years.”

Kalamazoo County Continuum of Care ran its count on January 23. Director Patrese Griffin said the organization had 21 volunteers and eight homeless outreach specialists on hand to do the count. She said she was pleased with how it went.

“In Kalamazoo, we have an incredible group of partners, we have incredible grassroots groups, we have incredible people who are working at all levels, to make sure that we change the trajectory for what's happening in our community as it relates to housing.”

Griffin said the Kalamazoo County numbers for 2024 will be available in a few months.

Griffin, Wardell and Monocchio all stressed the importance of the data in determining future funding for cities and agencies addressing housing insecurity.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.