According to a Jan. 13 news release, the annual point-in-time homeless count is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the local Continuum of Care funding process, which brought more than $41 million to Greater Houston-area homeless assistance programs in fiscal year 2019-20. According to the release, these funds play a critical role in providing permanent housing, outreach and support services to people experiencing homeless throughout the Greater Houston area.
While the overall methodology of the count and survey will remain the same as in years past, procedural changes have been implemented this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. According to the release, this year, no community volunteers will be allowed to participate; outreach teams will solely comprise staff from Coalition for the Homeless and The Way Home. Additionally, outreach teams will be using personal protective equipment and digital maps instead of physical maps, and there will be no centralized staging locations.
"In spite of the pandemic, we have decided it is important to conduct the count—perhaps even more so this year because we want to know how COVID has impacted homelessness and because we want to be able to measure results of the Community COVID Housing Program," said Michael Nichols, president and CEO of Coalition for the Homeless, in a statement.
The count, which is held the same time of year annually to allow for trend analysis, will provide a snapshot of homelessness on a single night across the three Greater Houston-area counties. According to the release, data on the sheltered portion of the count will be collected Jan. 19, and data on the unsheltered portion of the count will be collected Jan. 20-22 and 25-29. During these eight days, outreach teams will conduct brief, conversational surveys with people on the street to confirm they were unsheltered as of Jan. 19 and to document their housing needs.
The results of the 2021 homeless count and survey are expected to be released to the public this spring. However, officials with Coalition for the Homeless did note that due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this year's count may not be directly comparable to those of years past.
"The count will still give us an understanding of how The Way Home Continuum of Care, our local homeless response system, is performing—even in an ongoing global pandemic," Nichols said. "We will use these insights to inform both our overall strategy and COVID-19 response moving forward."
To view the findings of previous homeless counts in the Greater Houston area, click here.