Every January, dozens of volunteers come together to count the number of people experiencing homelessness in Sonoma County, California.
Led by paid guides who are themselves unhoused, they pile into cars before sunrise, then scatter across a landscape of subdivisions and vineyards that spans a region slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island. The effort, mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is meant to provide a rough sketch of the state of homelessness at a particular moment. Similar efforts play out nationwide at least every other year.
But this year is different.
Sonoma County is calling off its point-in-time (PIT) count because of the risks posed by the novel coronavirus, and it’s not alone. So far, 175 Continuums of Care (CoCs) — local bodies that coordinate services for homeless families — have asked for permission to postpone or cancel the PIT count this month, according to HUD. That means about 45% of jurisdictions designated as CoCs won’t be providing an estimate, including major metropolitan areas that have struggled with homelessness, such as King County (home to Seattle) and Los Angeles.