Photo courtesy of Metro Creative 

The Contra Costa County’s Homeless Continuum of Care (CoC) recently released its annual Point In Time (PIT) report, which showed East County ranking the highest in the number of people experiencing homelessness.

Citing concerns of COVID-19 exposure, county officials with a focus on homelessness are examining three options for gathering critical information on this vulnerable population.

During the county’s Continuum of Care (CoC) Council on Homelessness Nov. 13 meeting, Jamie Klinger, a research and evaluation manager for Contra Costa Health, Housing and Homeless Services Division (H3), presented the challenges the pandemic has placed on methods for completing the homeless point in time (PIT) count.

In a typical year, with the help of more than 100 staff and volunteers, Contra Costa County conducts a PIT, which offers a one-day snapshot of those experiencing homelessness on any given day. 

“(The count) is really important for our decision-making purposes to share with our community partners, to help do planning for resources,” Klinger said, explaining that the count is usually conducted between the hours of 6 and 9 a.m. 

The PIT typically takes place in the last 10 days of January, but the work beforehand involves presenting a final count methodology to the CoC governance board in December along with training volunteers and coordinating regional partners for technology support. 

With COVID-19, the risk of exposure to staff, volunteers and homeless individuals launched a need to revaluate the methods for the 2021 count.

The first option to reduce exposure was to use the 2020 figures for 2021, since the county is only mandated to capture the PIT every other year but opts to conduct it yearly. Klinger noted the issue with this option is that the homeless population could be significantly larger in the wake of the pandemic. 

The second option was to push the PIT day further out in the year, when the county health tier is back into orange, which represents a moderate risk of transmission. She pointed out that the significant challenge with this option was planning. Triggering recruitment and training — along with the presentation before the CoC — must all take place within a particular time frame before the volunteers and staff collect data. It’s difficult to predict when that should occur when the movement between tiers based on COVID-19 case counts is also unpredictable. 

The third option was to conduct the 2021 count as usual, but since the concern of virus exposure was what prompted the discussion around the options in the first place, the challenges with that alternative were obvious.

City leaders and representatives of local police departments spoke during the meeting to share their thoughts. One individual stated that the end of rent moratoriums could spark a heightened count of homeless individuals if the PIT later in the year. 

Brentwood Captain Doug Silva stated his desire to see a 2021 PIT conducted.

“I understand the safety concerns,” Silva said. “But we are using this data to make critical decision on how to spend money.”

Silva noted his agency is especially interested in the information regarding how people ended up homeless in Brentwood and what kinds of services they need. He added he would like his agency to offer more support in completing the process.

For upcoming meeting details, visit https://cchealth.org/h3/coc/council.php#Meetings.