Flint, MI—Groups of outreach workers and volunteers drove across Genesee County on Jan. 25, 2023, scouting street-to-street as they sought to survey unhoused individuals during the snowy winter evening.
The groups were carrying out Genesee County’s Point-in-Time (PIT) count, a federal mandate for counties to assess, once at least every other year, the number of people experiencing homelessness within the last 10 days of January.
The count serves a variety of purposes, but it primarily helps determine the amount of federal funding counties receive for administering programs for unhoused individuals. The gathered data is also used for service organizations’ funding applications for programs including homelessness prevention, emergency shelter, data collection, street outreach and housing programs.
For Erika Humphrey, coordinator at the Flint-Genesee County Continuum of Care (CoC), which organizes the annual PIT count in Genesee County, it was her first time getting involved with the count. She said she viewed the experience as a chance for her to give back to the community.
“I love Flint,” said Humphrey. “I am a resident of Flint. I have always worked in the Flint community … This is important to me: to be able to help make this happen and to help people who are experiencing homelessness in whatever way I can.”
On Wednesday, Jan. 25, the surveyors’ focus was on enumerating the county’s unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness, a count which includes those staying in a vehicle or an abandoned building rather than a homeless shelter.
Gathering at the shared office space of the Shelter of Flint’s PATH program and the Genesee County Youth Corp’s Street Outreach Program, teams for the county’s PIT count finalized their plans for the rest of the night.
The six groups were each responsible for a target area in the county, with Flint, Mich. being the main focus as the city accounts for the largest unhoused population in Genesee County, Humphrey explained.
While Humphrey stayed behind to support surveyors on the ground, the teams headed into the cold winter night—a winter weather advisory was in effect—loading community donations such as food, clothing, blankets, hand and foot warmers into their cars.
One group headed first toward an abandoned property nearby. Outreach workers on the team had previously checked in on the spot a handful of times, given a makeshift shelter and blankets they had seen inside the building. Like before, there wasn’t anyone in the building on Wednesday night.
So, the team moved on to another location, a recreational vehicle (RV) where the outreach workers were familiar with some occupants, one of whom was a client.
Inside the snow-covered RV sat a small group of individuals. The team greeted the group, handed out donated food and personal hygiene items, and explained that they were hoping to ask a few survey questions for a count of people experiencing homelessness.
“Where did you sleep last night?” a team member asked alongside questions about names, birthdays, incomes, veteran status and physical and mental disabilities.
Before departing, Emily Wheat, manager of Shelter of Flint’s PATH Outreach program and part of the PIT count team, handed out her card to the RV’s occupants whom she hadn’t encountered before, encouraging them to give her a call when needed.
After making their way to an abandoned home to check in on clients of the PATH Outreach program and continue their count, the group circled around areas such as Hurley Medical Center, McLaren Flint and the Center for Hope’s warming center for the rest of the night.
All in all, Wheat said they counted a total of 10 individuals on Wednesday.
Essence Wilson, the governance chair of the Flint-Genesee CoC, said the PIT count does come with limitations, writing in an email that “it would be impossible to count everyone experiencing homelessness on one night as we do not always know where they are located.”
Further, there are individuals who may be couch-surfing, staying with family and friends without a home of their own, she explained in a presentation on Jan. 25.
The PIT count in Genesee County continued over the course of Jan. 26 and Jan. 27, during which time the count teams surveyed sheltered individuals who were unhoused, staying in places like homeless shelters. Wilson said the count results will now be analyzed and certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Flint-Genesee CoC typically receives the results by June.