Point-in-Time count to tally region’s homeless population

Community Action Pioneer Valley’s offices at 393 Main St. in Greenfield, the former home of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce. Community Action is one of the social service agencies that is working later this month to get a headcount of people sleeping in shelters and, in some cases, outside.

Community Action Pioneer Valley’s offices at 393 Main St. in Greenfield, the former home of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce. Community Action is one of the social service agencies that is working later this month to get a headcount of people sleeping in shelters and, in some cases, outside. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Community Action Pioneer Valley’s offices at 393 Main St. in Greenfield, the former home of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce. Community Action is one of the social service agencies that is working later this month to get a headcount of people sleeping in shelters and, in some cases, outside.

Community Action Pioneer Valley’s offices at 393 Main St. in Greenfield, the former home of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce. Community Action is one of the social service agencies that is working later this month to get a headcount of people sleeping in shelters and, in some cases, outside. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 01-10-2024 5:23 PM

Social service agencies across the region will team up this month to get a headcount of people sleeping in shelters and, in some cases, outside.

The annual Point-in-Time count is a national initiative set up by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to determine the greatest needs for homeless people with and without shelter. Nationally, regions within each state are broken up into a Continuum of Care (CoC), where organizations work together to survey homeless populations and offer them resources, such as sleeping bags, backpacks or warm clothing. Western Massachusetts is broken up into the Berkshire-Franklin-Hampshire Three County CoC — the largest geographic CoC in the state — and the Hampden County CoC.

The count is scheduled to take place on Jan. 31, according to Community Action Pioneer Valley Associate Director of Programs Janna Tetreault.

“We use a couple of different methods,” said Tetreault. “We get a count from all of the shelter providers directly of people who are in the shelter on that night. Then, we also send out volunteers to count people who are unsheltered. People break into groups and they cover specific areas. … It’s not a perfect process. We don’t think that we count everyone. There are a lot of folks we may not reach, particularly if they’re unsheltered on that particular night.”

Surveys will also be distributed to those who are willing to take them, she said.

Tetreault added that HUD has a “very specific definition” of who to count, which doesn’t include people who are couch surfing or temporarily living with another family.

“At this time of the year, particularly in New England, we think there is probably a high percentage of folks who are doing that and are not outside,” she said.

Conducting the count is a requirement for any community that receives federal funding from HUD. Tetreault said the CoC receives about $3.5 million a year for the three-county region, though it’s unclear how much the count impacts the funding the region receives. Those funds are distributed by Community Action Pioneer Valley to area providers, who do the work of housing and supporting the region’s most vulnerable populations.

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Beyond that, the information gathered during the count helps agencies to analyze trends over time and determine where more funding might be needed to address increases in people experiencing homelessness.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve seen a rise,” Tetreault said. “It went up 15% from 2022 to 2023.”

On Jan. 25, 2023, there were at least 661 people across Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire counties included in the Point-in-Time count. The largest number of individuals were located in Pittsfield (221), followed by Northampton (115) and Greenfield (104).

Anyone who is interested in donating items to be distributed to the homeless during the Point-in-Time count should contact Michele LaFleur at Community Action Pioneer Valley at mlafleur@communityaction.us. Donations are due before Friday.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter (X): @MaryEByrne.