Volunteers swept through the streets of Phoenix on Tuesday morning to survey thousands of homeless people living in Maricopa County as part of the annual Point-In-Time Homeless Count.
From about 9 a.m. to noon, volunteers worked to record accurate homeless population statistics in an effort to receive annual funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Point-In-Time Homeless Count has been a requirement across the country since 2007, however, Phoenix has been surveying the homeless population since 2002. The government defines a homeless person as someone who is living or sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation like a park, car, street or other public place.
Mayor Greg Stanton participated in Phoenix’s first homeless count in 2002, where he was inspired to focus on ending homelessness throughout his career. Now, Stanton helps train PIT volunteers, who he calls “PITers.”
“Let’s be honest, the money is nice, but it’s really about changing people’s lives, helping people who are in a time of need,” Stanton said at a volunteer training event.
The county usually receives about $25 million for supporting the needs of the homeless population, the Maricopa Association of Governments’ website stated. The importance of accuracy in the PIT Count determines not only how much money the county receives, but also shows progress in the efforts to end homelessness.
The 2015 PIT Count recorded 5,631 homeless people in Maricopa County, 380 of which were children who were living in various states of homelessness. Compared to 2014, where 5,918 homeless people were recording, last year’s numbers decreased by about 300 people.
However, Phoenix PIT Coordinator Riann Balch said that she believes the 2016 count will show an increase in the homeless population. Balch has seen a higher number of people seeking aid from shelters in Phoenix which she believes will be revealed in this year’s survey.
The 25-question PIT survey provides details that show what type of people are suffering from homelessness, Anne Scott of the Maricopa Association of Government said. Questions even help identify focus groups like veterans, youths and familial units who are living on the streets and can receive immediate help from places such as the Family Advocacy Center.
Balch said that the count is only one of the data points the city uses to record an accurate number of homeless people. Because Phoenix has such a large density, they use an extrapolation method to create a composite for the entire city, Balch said.
About 150 volunteers from different outreach organizations walked through the streets of Phoenix to not only collect data, but also offer immediate aid. The Phoenix Police Department was one of the special teams that helped during the count.
“We have teams that are specially equipped to work with disabled homeless people,” Balch said. “We also have a big effort from the Phoenix Police to go out and help with encampments.”
For many volunteers, as well as for Stanton, helping the homeless is part of living in a community that cares.
“If you [volunteers] were in the same circumstance, where you may be going through a level of homelessness, it’s what you would expect someone to do for you,” Stanton said at a volunteer training event.