Have you ever heard of Point-In-Time (PIT) Counts? If you answered yes, no need to keep reading. I am only kidding, definitely keep reading, but I am happy to know people are aware of PIT. If you answered no, I am glad you found your way to our blog. PIT Counts are a measure of the number of homeless people on a specific day. Participation in the winter PIT Count is required by US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Polk County likes to go above and beyond, as our county completes a PIT Count in the summer months as well.
You may be wondering how on Earth we count the homeless people? Well, it is a coordinated effort through Polk County’s Continuum of Care and Primary Health Care’s Centralized Intake. Volunteers go out into homeless camps and known areas where homeless people gather and get the individuals to take a survey. In return, they receive a gift card and a bag of goodies.
Earlier this month, two HOME, Inc. employees volunteered to help with the summer 2019 PIT count. It was truly eye-opening. Our territory was the Southside of Des Moines. The first stop was off of Maury Street. As we walked through the woods you could see the destruction leftover from where the City came through to clear out the camp. There was trash, tent pieces, clothing and even a bicycle left behind. As we followed the path further back into the woods we found our first habitable tent. It was a couple who has been living outdoors for over five years, both of which suffer from mental illness. The City evicted them a few weeks prior, but they brought their tent back anyway. We also traveled to other known camps under bridges, down by the river, and several locations far into the woods behind commercial buildings on the Southside. The one commonality between all of the locations was that they were out of sight and often deep into the woods. There is a saying, “out of sight, out of mind” – I feel like this is sometimes how our community treats the homeless. The homeless camps are right off the roads we drive on every day and yet many of us are unaware of the people living outdoors.
Though we will probably never be able to account for all of the homeless population, the PIT count is a great opportunity for the public to see how our homeless neighbors are living. Let’s work to change our mindset and bring the issue of homelessness to the forefront of our minds. Housing is a human right and everyone deserves access to safe housing.