The Homeless Count

January 22, 2014

Stacy Oliver is the Community Outreach Coordinator for One Roof and a former AmeriCorps member with the YWCA Central Alabama’s Building Communities, Bettering Lives program.

I was recently hired as the Community Outreach Coordinator for OneRoof, whose mission is to equip and empower our community to prevent and end homelessness through advocacy and education. This is a mission that is permanently imprinted on my mind and heart through my two years of service as an AmeriCorps member.
During my time as an AmeriCorps member, one of my responsibilities was coordinating Point-in-Time, an annual mini-census of people in our community impacted by homelessness. When I first learned about Point-in-Time, or PIT, I thought—why do we count people who are homeless? At the time, I was unfamiliar with the complexities of homelessness, but when I experienced PIT firsthand, it became clear to me why this event is so very, very important to our community.
PIT takes place in most communities across the United States. The Department of Housing and Urban Development requires every community that receives funding to conduct a count like this. The data collected during PIT has very practical uses. We know that we can’t prevent and end homelessness in our area if we don’t understand it first. PIT data can be used to leverage funding for homeless and homeless prevention services because it documents need. It can also be used to understand trends in homelessness, especially in specific geographic locations. Simply put, PIT helps us understand who is homeless, why they’re homeless, what services are missing and what solutions can be made for a future where homelessness is a rare occurrence. This data helps us come up with innovative solutions that serve the most people, the most effectively.
PIT is an event that educates. It is a tool for making Birmingham and the rest of central Alabama a healthier place to live, where the most vulnerable community members have somewhere to turn and where agencies are taking educated, thoughtful steps to empower people to improve their lives. It’s an event that engages so many members of our community and is truly a collaborative effort to lift up and honor the experiences of people who are currently homeless.
In 2013, a little over 100 volunteers helped us find and interview anyone sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation—a population made up of domestic violence survivors, veterans, youth, families and others in crisis. PIT gives community members the opportunity to reach out to someone experiencing homelessness in a way that doesn’t shy from the truth of their situation.
While the data itself is important, what has become even more important to me is the fact that PIT is essentially a collection of interviews. Each survey gives visibility and acknowledgement to the struggle that someone is currently facing in our community; and perhaps, more importantly, it highlights what that person needs to gain safe, decent, accessible and affordable housing. Each survey demonstrates the desire of a community to reach out and tell someone who is experiencing homelessness, “You matter. You count.”

This year, more than 120 volunteers will assist us with conducting our Point-in-Time interviews from 6:00 p.m. on January 22nd until 5:59 p.m. on January 23rd. We are very thankful for all the community members who have reached out to conduct interviews this year, including AmeriCorps members serving in the YWCA’s Building Communities, Bettering Lives program. Although we have closed registration for this year’s Point-in-Time count, you can visit our blog for a list of reasons why you might want to join us for Point-in-Time in the future. For anyone who would like to be involved with One Roof, we invite you to participate and learn more about our upcoming events, Cardboard Connect and Project Homeless Connect, or like us on Facebook.

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