Photo by Wick Beavers
Article by Kelsey Ronan

Metro Community Development is preparing for the 2011 Point in Time. On Jan. 26th, the organization will conduct its annual count of the homeless in Genesee County.

Point in Time is a biannual count of the homeless mandated by HUD. Metro Community Development decided to do it every year, explained Gerry Leslie, Homeless Management Information Systems Administrator.

“We as a community receive federal and state funding to deal with homelessness and people living with extremely low income,” Leslie explained. “The community submits an appeal to HUD. HUD weighs in the homeless count to decide what kind of funding should be allocated.”

Once state and federal money has been given, a collaborative body of Genesee County organizations, Continuum of Care, allocates the money to specific organizations to best address the needs of the homeless community.

“The federal definition of homelessness is someone staying in a place unfit for human habitation or staying in an emergency shelter.” An unfit dwelling, Leslie explained, include scenes commonly associated with homelessness: tents, underpasses, doorways. But it also includes people squatting in abandoned buildings, or living without active utilities because they cannot afford their heat and water bills.

The Point in Time is going to be conducted a little differently this year, Leslie said. The count will be spread over a three day window, Jan. 26-28. The night of Wednesday the 26th, shelters across the county will count the number of service users they have and 32 locations across the county will report their figures. Over Thursday and Friday, volunteers will go out to clothing donation centers, soup kitchens and other facilities to conduct a head count. The key question, Leslie said, is, “Were you homeless on the night of the 26th?”

New methodology and technology will remove duplications from the data and provide a more accurate count. “We really have no idea what the count will give us because of the new methodology. In 2009, we counted 2,961 homeless people in Genesee County. It already looks like there will be an increase.”

“One thing we’ve seen is how people stereotype homelessness: they have the idea of the single male in his 30s or 40s sleeping on the street. But in 2009, the fastest growing segment of homelessness was families. And of those families, 50% were homeless for the first time. So we are going to be particularly aware of families as we count this year,” Leslie said.

 Another group the 2011 Point in Time will be particularly aware of is homeless veterans. HUD and the Veteran’s Administration Association are putting special emphasis on counting homeless veterans. Point in Time will be partnering with veterans organizations in Genesee County to collect this data.

 “It is crucial we get as accurate a count as possible so we can make strategic planning for all partners in the community. The more accurate the count, the more efficiently we’re able to allocate funding to the people who need it the most,” Leslie said.

Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to contact Leslie at gleslie@flint.org.

© Kelsey Ronan, 2011