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Volunteers needed to count Utah's homeless population

Posted at 6:16 AM, Jan 23, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Volunteers are needed to help in the annual statewide count of people experiencing homelessness.

The point-in-time count takes place between January 26-January 28.

“We want to understand how many people are out there and on the streets and that helps us and the local homeless council communities to organize resources that are needed and what the gaps are,” said Tricia Davis, the assistant director of the state’s Office of Homeless Services.

Volunteers in each of the 13 local homelessness councils across Utah will conduct the survey in the early morning hours.

Volunteers conducting the survey will ask those who are experiencing homelessness where they slept on the night of January 24. Other survey questions include topics such as barriers to housing as well as physical and mental health.

“And it's really it really doesn't take too long,” Davis added. “But what we find is people want to talk and, and tell us their stories, which is a good thing.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities to complete the count in order to receive federal funding for homeless programs. 

The point-in-time count for 2022 found 3,556 people experiencing homelessness.

“It makes our count more accurate the more people we have out there,” Davis said. “Also, it’s a really good opportunity to interact with unsheltered individuals. There is a lot to learn.”

The issue isn’t limited to Salt Lake county. Volunteers will also be working in rural Utah and smaller cities.

“St. George has a robust response system, Ogden, domestic violence shelters all over the state which is related to homelessness,” said Wayne Niederhauser, the Utah Homeless Coordinator. “We have an interest from Blanding to Logan to Vernal and Tooele."

However, according to the National Homeless Law Center, the PIT counts are widely understood to under count the number of people experiencing homelessness by a significant margin. 

“So if you think about that, 30,000 people access services last year, in our Point in Time Count, we had about 3900 people that we counted that were sheltered and unsheltered."

While the PIT count isn’t the entire picture, Davis adds its just one avenue to help homeless individuals and service providers, especially during the winter. 

“It is our way and the nation's way of really trying to figure out who is experiencing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness," Davis said. "It happens in January because the people who are unsheltered right now are really the most vulnerable people. And it helps us figure out planning for winter and future shelter response.”

 Those who sign up to volunteer will be asked to take an online training course.

Interested volunteers can sign up here.