More than 1,000 volunteers participated in the 2017 Point-in-Time (PIT) Count on Saturday, January 28, 2017 to count and interview people experiencing homelessness in Orange County. This was the largest number of volunteers that have participated to date, since the Count started in 2007.
Volunteers covered 270 mapped areas of the County, which is also the highest number to date. This increased involvement year by year is allowing the County to gather more and more data, which leads to a more accurate picture of how many people are without permanent shelter in our community, as well as insights into some of the issues they are facing.
This mass effort occurs every two years in local communities all across the nation. In fact, the Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires it so they can track progress on ending homelessness, as well as allocate funds to support work at the local level.
Orange County receives approximately $23 million from HUD to address homelessness and these federal funds are distributed to various entities in the county providing services for the homeless. For example, Mercy House receives funds for Permanent Supportive Housing and other programs and Families Forward receives funds for Rapid Rehousing.
This year, United Way, conducted three PIT trainings to train 75+ volunteers and assemble 800 “Thank You” packages that were given to people who were interviewed in appreciation for their time and participation in interviews. These packages were full of items donated from community members and corporate partners. Notably this year, a new partnership with Krochet Kids International was formed, who provided 600 warm winter hats for this effort.
Volunteers for the count ranged from agency staff professionals that work with homeless individuals to people who had never before spoken to someone who was without shelter, to people who are currently experiencing homelessness who wanted to assist with the effort.
The volunteers were trained both on how to count– identifying encampments, cars or RV’s that may be being used as sleeping locations and how to build rapport with and interview someone for the survey.
The survey covered duration and conditions such as how long someone has been homeless, if they had any physical or mental health problems, if they were a veteran and how many times they had been homeless. This data is used to help ensure that we have homeless services that are targeting identified needs in the community.
In addition to the count providing crucial information for HUD, Orange County and homeless service providers, it also provides volunteers with a meaningful and strategic way to be involved and a chance to interact with people experiencing homelessness, to learn and to pass on their knowledge and experience with their friends and family.
Matt Nordeman, Chair of United Ways’ Emerging Leaders United explained why he decided to volunteer, “Often times I feel like I live in a bubble. I work in Newport Beach and live in Anaheim so my freeway commute bypasses most of our neighboring communities in Orange County. Throughout my daily routine, I do not experience the reality that so many of our neighbors face. It wasn’t until I looked a little closer that I realized the homeless problem in Orange County is real and growing. The infamous section of the 57 freeway between Orangewood and the 5 is a great example. That did not exist a few years back and now hundreds of people call that patch of land ‘home’. The reason I decided to be involved with the Point-In-Time Count was to get close to the source of the problems and truly understand the homeless issue in Orange County.”
Through his experience, he was able to learn something new about homelessness. “My lesson was very simple. Not all homeless in our community have mental or physical health problems. Many of the people I met and spoke with are purely down on their luck and have been out of a job so long they are unemployable. It was eye-opening to hear some of the stories of people aged in 50’s or 60’s,”notes Nordeman.
Hundreds of other volunteers helped ensure that those experiencing homelessness in our community know that they count. The data collected from the PIT and from the OC Homelessness Cost Study will be instrumental in advocating for and ensuring we have the right housing options and services to #endHomelessnessOC.
Guest Blog Post by Becks Heyhoe