Last week, I participated in my first Point-in-Time Count, the regional homeless census coordinated semi-annually by Homeward. I spent most of the day in a coordinating role, but I did have the opportunity to survey one person – “John.” The first survey question asks, “Where will you sleep tonight?” John answered with the response no one wants to hear, “outside.” As we continued, he was friendly and open through all of my questions. That night, I walked outside into the bitter cold and was smacked by the reality of his situation. John will be sleeping outside tonight. This reality made the survey seem silly to me – How was the information I just collected going to make a difference to John as he sleeps outside in the freezing cold tonight?
Of course, I know the Point-in-Time Count data is critical to homeless services in our community. The data collected is used to guide programming, obtain funding, and garner community support to end homelessness. I struggle with the face that completing a survey did not benefit his circumstances that night. He honored me with his time and honesty, and I was not able to honor him with a warm, safe place to stay.
I will never lose my sense of urgency when working with a person in crisis, but I have to step back to see how different pieces fits together to create a successful homeless service system. Our system has individuals and agencies working tirelessly to provide shelter and services to individuals now, as well as build housing infrastructure for the future. The Point-in-Time Count provides a benchmark to determine if we are being successful in our efforts, and where we need to improve.
The Count learns directly from those experiencing homelessness about their demographics, experiences, needs, and what they believe will get them into housing. This information is shared with program directors, funders, legislators, executives, and community members. So, directors can see what is working and what isn’t to better serve community needs; funders can receive required information to support necessary programming; and the public can better understand homelessness by finding personal connections to their vulnerable neighbors.
The knowledge, funding, and community support gained through the Point-in-Time Count helps build permanent solutions to homelessness in our community, which makes the Count not just a benchmark, but a catalyst for change. No one should ever have to sleep outside like John did on Thursday, January 24th. The data we collect will help individuals, like John, maintain housing for the rest of their lives.
The Richmond Region Point-in-Time Count took place on Thursday, January 24th. Over 100 volunteers searched outdoors in Richmond, Chesterfield and Henrico, and they attended seven meal programs in the city to survey individuals in housing crisis. The Point-in-Time Count not only counts individuals living outdoors. All of the shelters participate by surveying and counting the adults and children staying in shelter. This gives us a snapshot of homelessness in our region. Stay posted – Homeward will share the findings from the Region’s Point-in-Time Count in March.
If you meet someone living outdoors, please direct them to Commonwealth Catholic Charities’ Homeless Point of Entry (HPE) to find shelter. HPE can be reached at 804.648.4177 or at 1400 Oliver Hill Way between 9AM and 5PM. If the temperature is at or below 40 degrees the City of Richmond’s Cold Weather Shelter will be open from 7PM to 6AM located at 14 West Duval St. For a more comprehensive list of services available in Richmond please see Homeward’s Street Sheet.