COVID impacts 2021 Point In Time count report

Only those in shelters were counted during the annual survey, as Council for the Homeless and the local Continuum of Care sought to protect surveyors and people who are homeless from exposure to COVID

Every January, a team of staff and volunteers from Clark County counts the number of individuals who are homeless in the county on a specific day. This Point in Time (PIT) count, coordinated by the Council for the Homeless, offers a snapshot of the county’s homeless population. However, due to restrictions on the count imposed by the pandemic, the 2021 count presents a somewhat different picture of this population than did previous PIT reports.

The PIT sheltered count in 2021, while lower than the 2020 count, did not necessarily mean that fewer families and individuals were seeking shelter in late January. File photo
The PIT sheltered count in 2021, while lower than the 2020 count, did not necessarily mean that fewer families and individuals were seeking shelter in late January. File photo

Only individuals who are sheltered (those living in a designated temporary or emergency shelter or transitional housing) were counted in the 2021 project, as a result of the CFTH’s concerns for the safety and health of those counting and those being counted. In previous years, the total number of people who are homeless on the count date included people who are sheltered and those living “unsheltered” in a place not meant for human habitation. This could be a car, a tent, sidewalk, or a trailer with no running water or electricity.

In the 2020 count, 958 people experiencing homelessness were identified during the one-night counts, with 487 people living unsheltered. The number of individuals sheltered in 2021 — 375 — was down by 20 percent from the 471 people who were sheltered in 2020.

The PIT sheltered count in 2021, while lower than the 2020 count, did not necessarily mean that fewer families and individuals were seeking shelter in late January, said Kate Budd, executive director, Council for the Homeless. For instance, one “severe weather” emergency shelter with 40 beds was not open because the weather was not severe on the count date.

“Another factor was that fewer people were interested in congregate shelters this winter due to COVID,” Budd said. “Many people felt it was safer to shelter in a tent or car rather than a building, which makes sense when we are all being encouraged to socially distance.”

The count is not considered to be an accurate representation of the number of people who are housed (In 2020, the Council’s Homeless Systems Numbers study reported that 6,359 individuals were homeless at some time during the year.) Rather, the PIT count helps communities better understand trends within their homeless population.

Other highlights from the 2021 PIT report:

  • Overall reductions in the number of Emergency Shelter beds for families and individuals due to Covid-19 social distancing restrictions.
  • The number of beds and people in Transitional Housing increased 23 percent from 2020 due to a new X-Change Recovery program.
  • Increase in the number of Chronically Homeless Families in shelter. One Family of five people in 2020. Four Families with 16 household members in 2021.

About the Point In Time Count

The PIT Count is a planning tool among many that helps to inform the local Clark County/City of Vancouver Continuum of Care (CoC). The CoC works to address needs and progress the Clark County Homeless Action Plan. The count is required bi-annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and annually by the Washington State Department of Commerce; it is among the factors these agencies review when determining resource allocations to communities.

To learn more about Clark County’s Homeless Action Plan and homelessness, visit the Council for the Homeless website at https://www.councilforthehomeless.org/homeless-action-plan/.

About the Council for the Homeless

Council for the Homeless is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide community leadership, compelling advocacy, and practical solutions to prevent and end homelessness in Clark County, Washington.

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