SAN ANTONIO – Every January, volunteers with homeless organizations across the nation take part in a Point-in-Time (PIT) count to understand how many homeless people are in shelters and encampments in communities.
The pandemic has forced many of those organizations, including the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless (SARAH), to cancel the PIT count in 2021 to avoid spreading the virus.
Katie Vela, executive director of SARAH, says the cancellation protects the staff members and homeless people from COVID-19.
The data collected during the PIT county helps local agencies determine the types of programs that are needed. The count is also required for agencies and cities to apply for federal dollars.
“This is really critical data for us. It’s a good measurement to see, year over year, how we’re doing with homelessness,” Vela said.
In January 2020, more than 400 Bexar County volunteers went out to count the homeless community in shelters and encampments throughout the area.
This year, SARAH will be using the Homeless Management Information System to get a count. About 700 agencies in the area use the program.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has allowed the workaround process for organizations like SARAH.
SARAH will depend on organizations, such as SAMMinistries, which continues to have staff on the streets safely meeting people in encampments.
Nikisha Baker, CEO of SAMMinistries, says based on what the organization has encountered, they have seen more people living on the streets. She says the PIT count is vital to putting a face to the homeless issue. The data tells them whether it’s youth, families or other groups that need assistance.
“It gives us demographics that we can look at, whether we’re talking about individuals of a certain age or men versus women, people that fall into certain ethnic categories. And so we’re able to drill down into where or what communities of homeless need us the most,” Baker said.
SARAH says it’s working on a Street Outreach Day of Appreciation on Jan. 26 that will benefit about a dozen nonprofits that help the homeless. Details of the event have not been finalized, but Vela says it will be a donation campaign that will benefit the selected groups.
The PIT count for this year is expected to be released in April.