While communities across the country have delayed or cancelled their annual homeless point-in-time counts because of COVID-19, Lane County will proceed with theirs this year. They’re relying on a database to conduct the count safely.
Normally, Lane County counts the unsheltered with hundreds of volunteers who find and survey people who may be homeless.
This time they’re relying on the county’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), which is used to create the Homelessness By Name List, said Alexandria Dreher. Dreher leads the annual PIT count for the county.
The database works by collecting information from people who use homeless and low-income services. Dreher said 46,494 people received services from an HMIS participating project in 2020. Of these 46,494 people, 9,353 of people experienced homeless in 2020.
“In 2020 [the HMIS] was used by 32 agencies and 207 different projects with services to low-income and, or households within our community,” she said.
HMIS data is usually sent to Congress along with the PIT count findings where Congress then determines the need of a community, Dreher said.
While places like Seattle and Los Angeles have cancelled their counts, and others conducting theirs over multiple days, Lane County is among several communities that are allowed to use data from the HMIS and HBNL.
“The Department of Housing and Urban Development has offered waivers to communities to provide additional flexibility to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” she said, “Lane County’s methodology that was approved by HUD was approved because we have this robust Homeless By-Name List.”
Dreher said the database would normally be a secondary source to fill in anyone who was not counted. It’s also used for the other PIT count, which tracks sheltered homelessness.
One caveat of getting approval from HUD is that the county will need to count those who are not in the HMIS, Dreher said.
“There will be a limited number of populations and providers who can collect surveys electronically on the day of the county,” Dreher said. This includes students within the McKinny-Vento program and people staying in small conestoga hut projects.
These groups will be counted Jan. 27. Point-in-time counts typically occur on the last Wednesday of January.
“What is unfortunately lost in not doing an unsheltered Point-In-Time count survey where hundreds of volunteers go into the community is that you lose that human connection of volunteers having conversations with a person experiencing homelessness, you lose the person experiencing homelessness knowing that somebody cares about them,” she said.
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