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January 21, 2015

Volunteers to count Philly homeless

Purpose of activity is to help measure city's progress

Economy Homeless
012115_Homeless-3.jpg Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Homelessness is a persistent reality for many Philadelphians.

A group of volunteers will canvass Philadelphia on Wednesday night to count the city’s homeless population in order to gauge the city's progress in fighting homelessness.

The count, which is also required for some grant applications, occurs at night and will include about 300 volunteers coordinated by Project HOME, which is a group aimed at fighting homelessness. The census is one of several scheduled in the region and is formally called a point-in-time count. A similar count will take place across New Jersey on the evening of Jan. 27.

“Our hope is to use the findings from this count to increase housing and treatment resources for homeless men and women who are today living on our streets so that they might tomorrow live in homes with appropriate support,” said Sister Mary Scullion, executive director of Project HOME, in a statement.

The count is required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for a particular grant application. Its main purpose, however, is to act as a measuring stick for progress, said Niki Edwards, a regional HUD spokeswoman based in Philadelphia. 

“While the point-in-time count informs where the city might target its resources, it does not determine the funding level,” Edwards said in a statement.

Philadelphia’s homeless population dropped by 15 percent in recent years from 6,740 in 2007 to just under 5,740 last year.

“Especially now, with unemployment and poverty high in Philadelphia, and shelters and food pantries struggling to meet increased demand, we use this tool to help advocate for resources that are strategic investments,” said Scullion.

Jennine Miller, director of advocacy and public policy at Project HOME, said in addition to the count, surveys will be conducted to better understand how well services are working. She said the counts are taken at night because “it is a little easier to sort out who is not moving at that time.”

“We do our best to get as many people as possible,” Miller said. “That is part of why we have so many teams that go throughout the city and go into as many nooks and crannies as we can.”

HUD specifies that the counts take place during the last 10 days in January and other groups will be doing similar work nearby. 

Monarch Housing Associates, a non-profit based in Cranford, is coordinating the New Jersey count.

"Typically communities use the numbers we collect from the count for planning," said Taiisa Kelly, a senior associate with Monarch Housing Associates.