A Night Out - Collecting Data to End Homelessness

 

 Stephen Yenke is the Executive Assistant at Partnership for Strong Communities

The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness (CCEH) will soon release the results of the 2015 Point-In-Time Count (PIT). This past February, I volunteered to help conduct surveys of individuals at a shelter in Greater Hartford as part of the 2015 PIT and I am looking forward to reading CCEH’s 2015 report.

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) mandates that every Continuum of Care in the country conduct a PIT Count of homeless individuals each year. This important data informs HUD decisions regarding funding for programs that provide critical assistance to those experiencing homelessness. The PIT surveys both those who are sheltered and those who are unsheltered and many areas recruit volunteers to help conduct the PIT.

To volunteer, I attended a two-hour training at Community Renewal Team about the survey (the Vulnerability Index & Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool) and how to conduct it respectfully and accurately. We were instructed to remind participants that the survey was voluntary and that any question could be skipped at any time if it made them uncomfortable. I was assigned to a sheltered-count team, and the volunteer teams headed out to locations around the city.

My team arrived at our assigned shelter, entered the back door, walked down stairs, and found ourselves in a room filled with 75 beds and as many men. There were rows of bunk beds and the room was filled with light chatter as some of the men completed a post-dinner chore like sweeping or clearing tables. One woman in our volunteer team backed against the wall, shaking her head and unable to speak. Her eyes were wide and fixated on the men and she was overcome with emotion. We were told there is another floor above with the same amount of beds and men.

An announcement was made that all survey participants would receive a CVS gift card with a small amount of money and the men slowly congregated towards the survey tables. Most of the men I surveyed were quiet, taking time to consider each question I asked and providing short responses. I was surprised to learn that many of the men I spoke with had paying jobs. Almost all of them had documentation like birth certificates and social security cards either secured in a locker or readily available on their person. Most had full days of regularly scheduled activities and were in contact with state agencies and services. With the exception of a few, most seemed genuinely optimistic about their life.

There were also many individuals who's primary language was Spanish, however, there was only one volunteer in our group who spoke Spanish fluently. When the rest of the English-speaking volunteers were dismissed, she still had a long line of men waiting to speak with her. I tried to give her an encouraging smile as we left, but she just looked exhausted.

Although shelters are critical in providing immediate service to those experiencing homelessness, it is not a permanent solution to the issue. Almost all of the men I spoke with reported having a physical or mental disability, some rather serious. It seemed to me that without housing resources and support services many of them would have significant difficulty maintaining their own housing. I look forward to reading this year’s 2015 PIT report and continuing to be a part of the efforts to end homelessness in Connecticut.

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