After weeks of preparation, volunteers and service providers hit the streets Tuesday to talk with the county’s most vulnerable residents in an effort to get a better idea of just how many are living without a home and what services they need.
Dubbed the “point-in-time” survey, or PIT, the survey happens every year in January as mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Coordinated by the St. Johns County Continuum of Care, the count is meant to provide a 24-hour snapshot of the county’s homeless population by gathering information about who the homeless are, how long they have been homeless, what services they need and what they are currently receiving.
Numbers and information from the PIT, once compiled, are used when applying for grants. That money, if awarded, flows back to county homeless service providers — representatives from which make up the membership of the Continuum, whose existence is also mandated by HUD.
This year’s PIT is the first since Flagler Hospital took over as lead agency for the Continuum.
Brittany Coronado, who manages the Continuum’s Homeless Management Information System, or HMIS, for Flagler Hospital, was at her office Tuesday morning handing out bags of supplies for the volunteers who were showing up.
“Everyone picks up here,” she said.
From there, the volunteers headed out with a clipboard full of surveys to an assigned location where homeless are known to congregate like downtown’s Plaza de la Constitucion or St. George Street.
That’s where Kathy Clark found herself later that day; walking the pedestrian-only street with her clipboard and two employees from the St. Francis House.
A New Yorker who moved here two years ago, Clark said she got involved after hearing news stories and seeing information on social media about the area’s homeless problem.
“There’s no housing for working people,” she said, taking a short break to talk about why she chose to volunteer and listing off a few experiences since becoming aware of the issues surrounding the homeless population here.
Once recently, she said, she stopped by the St. Francis House’s Port in the Storm homeless youth center. It was closed that day, but she saw a teenager, who appeared homeless, sitting with a backpack outside the building on Arapaho Avenue.
“I just felt terrible,” she said.
Also, during Hurricane Matthew, she and her husband were forced from their home and headed with their dogs to an emergency shelter to ride out the storm — an experience that underscored just how difficult life can be without a home.
“It was humbling to realize how lucky we are,” she said.
Clark said she volunteered for the PIT to contribute in some way to finding a solution.
“I’m used to seeing more help,” she said. “It seems like a fixable problem.”
There were others like her.
John Eaton, Flagler Hospital’s director of community health improvement, was with Coronado Tuesday morning.
The Continuum set a goal for 50 volunteers this year and Eaton said that by Saturday he was getting word from those coordinating the volunteers that they had more than needed for Tuesday.
But their efforts and offers of their time won’t go to waste.
Accuracy counts in the PIT.
While changes in methodology and efforts to eliminate duplicate surveys resulted in a pretty sharp drop from 2016’s number to the final number in 2017, Eaton has said that what they are capturing now is more in line with what HUD is looking for.
But making sure people aren’t counted twice and that the surveys meet HUD’s guidelines takes time.
“That’s a big piece too,” Eaton said. “We will have volunteers working with that process too.”