Twice a year, Homeward leads our community in a Point-in-Time (PIT) count, a one-day census of people experiencing homelessness in our region. To accomplish this we recruit over 200 volunteers to survey the residents of emergency shelters, guests of community meal programs, and people living on the streets. We often communicate that the data we collect from the PIT count helps support the network of services that can help our neighbors living in shelters and on the streets get into housing. Today, we want to share with you what we mean by this in more detail.

A few years back, the PIT survey was updated to collect information about the accessibility of technology for people experiencing homelessness. The purpose of this update was to learn how people access resources and services. Based on the outcome of this survey, our community was confident that a majority of clients had access to a cell phone. In 2017, this finding inspired our community to launch the Shelter Diversion Line, a hotline which focused on problem-solving in order to prevent a client from entering homelessness.SPIT2018 51

In 2018, a follow up PIT question showed that an even stronger majority of clients had access to cell phones. Based on this data, the Shelter Diversion Line was expanded to be the primary access point for emergency shelter referral in Greater Richmond and was rebranded as the Housing Crisis Line.

As we worked towards easier access to homeless services for clients in the counties, without transportation, or unable to come to a set location, we also expanded our PIT volunteer base. We increased the number of community members that we engaged and gave them the ability to offer unsheltered people the option to be entered into our community-wide data system. Through this database, we are able to match clients with the services they need.

During the street outreach portion of the 2018 winter PIT count, one of our volunteers connected with a veteran who had been living outdoors in one of the counties for over two years. The man had only change in his pocket and no means to come to the city to seek services; however, he did have a cell phone. He was willing to take the survey and allowed our volunteer to take his information for the database. Days later, this vet was matched with an open shelter bed and was on the path to housing. By administering the surveys and connecting unsheltered clients with our data system, our volunteers are contributing to the programs that get people like this veteran off the streets and into housing.

Our summer 2018 PIT count is in two weeks and we still have a huge need for volunteers. Please help support the work of your local homeless service nonprofits, and help your neighbors overcome their crisis. Sign up to volunteer at the PIT count today!

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