Counting the Unhoused, Spring 2023 News and Views

During the last week of January, members of the Creating Housing Coalition’s Community Outreach Assistance Team (COAT) participated in the Point-In-Time count for Linn/Benton County. This is an annual event conducted by local service agencies to determine the number and demographics of the unhoused in their area. Although the numbers are still preliminary, they clearly indicate a marked increase from last year in the number of unhoused individuals and families in the Albany area. As compared to last year’s count of 197, the 2023 data shows 376 individuals without permanent, secure housing. Actual numbers could be much higher as many are missed for a variety of reasons.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires any community receiving federal funding for their services to participate. The count identifies whether a person is an individual or a member of a family unit, their age and gender identity, how long a person has been unhoused, and more. The data collected helps policymakers and program administrators track the scope of homelessness in individual communities and the nation as a whole.

On a local level, it is a crucial measure in the planning of services and programs to address local needs, measure progress, and identify strengths and gaps in the community’s current assistance system. It provides insight into not only the array of circumstances that can lead to one becoming unhoused but also the physical and mental toll it can take on an individual.

One such insight observed by a PIT volunteer in this year’s count was that many of our unhoused neighbors suffer from depression and anxiety. Whether from the circumstances leading to their current situation—such as domestic abuse, housing discrimination, or job loss—or from the lack of secure housing itself, this information is vital to service providers in addressing a need.

Unfortunately, the PIT Count is not a perfect system. The number we get each year is considered a significant undercount of the total number of unhoused individuals. It can easily miss people who are doubled-up; for example, families living with other families because neither can afford a home. Those in the hospital or in jail at the time of the count are also unlikely to be included. Counting youth under the age of 24 can also pose a challenge. Young people can be unwilling to enter a shelter and often don’t stay in places inhabited by adults, making them hard to find and hard to count. Despite these shortcomings, the PIT Count is an important tool in every community’s toolbox.

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