For homeless service providers across the U.S., late January means the “point-in-time” count, an annual survey of homeless individuals, in which volunteers spend a single night combing streets, parks, and forests for people sleeping rough, or living in cars or tents.
The federally mandated count offers a key snapshot of the unhoused population, but the data has long been criticized by some homelessness advocates.
“It’s crazy,” said Jake Maguire, co-director of the anti-homelessness program Built for Zero at the national nonprofit Community Solutions. “We’re told it’s scientific, but it produces a very uncertain number.”
Local officials send their findings to the federal government and get back aggregated statistics 11 months later, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It’s data for someone else – it doesn’t give us any insight to improve our system. We don’t know who these people are and what they need.”