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Volunteers seek homeless for annual assessment

As the temperature started going down late Wednesday afternoon and darkness approached, groups of people searched possible sites in local communities where the homeless might be preparing to spend the night as part of the national Point In Time Count.

The PIT count as its called, is conducted each year in order to count the number of homeless individuals, both sheltered and unsheltered, that live in designated areas. This count is then sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which requires it for any community that receives federal funding from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. The count is done annually during the last week in January.

In 2019, according to figures released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 101 households in Lycoming County were identified as homeless with the total number of persons in those households at 137.

“It’s a nationally recognized day,” said Brittany Fischer, the Lycoming United Way’s vice president of community impact. “The goal is at that point in time–5 to 7 p.m. is our point in time–there are groups of people who go out and survey our community from one end of the county to the other as in all other counties that participate. This is a requirement for those that are funded by HUD funding,” she added.

Volunteers who participated in the count go to areas where the homeless population is known to frequent.

“You go out to areas that you know could be populated with homeless individuals and you survey the area to get a feel for how many people are out and what that count is and that includes sheltered and unsheltered individuals,” Fischer said.

She noted that any agencies in the area that operate emergency and transitional shelters or a site like the Code Blue Warming Center at First United Methodist Church, are included in the count as housing sheltered homeless individuals at that point in time.

Unsheltered sites would include areas along the River Walk, or under bridges, where known campsites have been set up, although Fischer stressed that in January it is more unlikely that people will not be camping outside.

“I personally have a challenge how that’s set up because I feel to get a true read of the need in our community it’s hard to identify that during the hours of five to seven, let alone in the month of January,” she said.

One difficulty that she identified is that at that time of the day, the homeless may still be at a soup kitchen or somewhere else that they frequent during the daytime but is still open at that hour, which would throw off the count.

“”What we report could be skewed and make HUD think you’re not necessarily in need like a large city where people are on the street at all times of the year,” Fischer added.

Another obstacle to getting an accurate count is the fact that many homeless people in this community do not fit the stereotype of what homelessness looks like. Many homeless are “couch surfers”–people who have lost their residence and are now living with a friend or relative — a living situation that HUD considers having a home.

“Many of our populated homeless in this community are bouncing from home to home, whether friend, family or whatever. It’s a struggling matter to try and really get a idea of what need our community has when we can’t identify it properly,” Fischer noted.

“That’s a point that’s good to be made that just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Just because you don’t see them sleeping on the street as you would in a large city, doesn’t mean they aren’t here,” she stressed. “You can be very well put together and still not know where you’re sleeping tonight.”

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