Pierce County is once again gearing up for its annual Point In Time homeless count.
The large-scale event is set for Friday, Jan. 26, and the county is looking for volunteers to help count and survey homeless residents in the area.
Last year, 219 volunteers participated in the count. That’s only slightly higher than the 214 that volunteered in 2016, but much more than the fewer than 100 volunteers who participated back in 2015.
There are various ways Pierce County residents can volunteer.
First is street outreach, where volunteers — accompanied by professionals — attempt to find unsheltered homeless residents all around the county.
The county’s Manager of Community Services Division Tess Colby said the professionals that accompany volunteers on street outreach personally know the areas, and even the people, where groups will be looking for homeless residents.
“No one is going into an encampment or rural area unless they are with folks who are professionals,” Colby said, stressing that it not only protects volunteers, but also the people the Point In Time survey is trying to help.
Street outreach occurs between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., and shifts are between two to three hours long.
Volunteers can also host tables at indoor sites across Pierce County or participate in Project Homeless Connect, a large gathering of homeless programs and service providers that help those experiencing homelessness sign up for medicaid, food stamps, temporary housing and more.
Hosting tables and participating with Project Homeless Connect vary between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., with two or three hour shifts.
Volunteers who sign up for hosting tables or helping with Project Homeless Connect also help count and survey people experiencing homelessness.
Those who want to help the Point In Time survey, but may not be comfortable with surveying or just want to go the extra mile, can sign up to help organize donations to go out to those experiencing homelessness on Thursday, Jan. 25 between 1 and 4:30 p.m.
Whatever people choose, Colby said, they’ll be helping a “critical” service for those in need.
“Volunteers are the backbone of the Point In Time count,” she continued. “The Point In Time Count can’t happen effectively without volunteers. When people give of their time, they are giving not just to us bureaucrats who want to count noses, they’re giving their time to people in crisis… the fact that volunteers spend part of their day accompanying people during that crisis is huge. It’s a reminder to people who are experiencing homelessness that they are, in fact, human beings, and people care about them.”
To sign up for any of these volunteer opportunities, head to http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/4003615/2018-Point-In-Time-Count-Training-Registration (or Google Pierce County Point In Time 2018 and follow the links) and answer a few survey questions.
Volunteers are required to participate in at least one training session, to be held at the Pierce County Human Services Soundview Building at 3602 Pacific Ave in Conference Room 1.
Training is available Thursday, Jan. 11 from 2 to 4 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 16 from 5 to 7 p.m., and Thursday, Jan. 18 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Volunteers may be required to download the Point In Time survey app, which, while free, will use some cell data.
Volunteers must also be 18 years old or older.
POINT IN TIME 2017
The 2017 Point In Time homeless count marked a decrease in overall homeless rates in the county, but also saw a five-year high in unsheltered homeless rates.
According to county data, 1,321 homeless people were counted last year. While 44 percent of those people were sleeping in an emergency shelter during the time of the count (and another 18 percent in transitional housing), 38 percent of people — or 504 people — were unsheltered, meaning they were living in tents, cars, abandoned buildings lacking amenities or even just outside.
The Point In Time survey does more than just count the number of people experiencing homelessness and where they last slept — it also asks these people about their age, race, gender, disabilities, and why they believe they’re homeless, among other demographic questions.
More than 40 percent of the people surveyed last year were people of color, but according to a 2015 U.S. Census Bureau report, people of color only make up 24 percent of the Pierce County population. Another 183 people said they were survivors of domestic abuse, a marked decrease from the 487 people who said they were survivors last year.