Preparations underway for homeless count

MANISTEE — It can be challenging to understand the scope of the homeless population when living in a small community, where many of those in need can be overlooked.

The annual Point in Time Count, or PIT Count, helps shed light on how many individuals in the community are living without appropriate shelter, and preparations for the count have begun in Manistee County.

Every year on the last Wednesday in January, each Michigan county is responsible for surveying its population and reporting the number who are homeless to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and HUD.

Tasha Lapinski, housing resource specialist for Northern Michigan Community Action Agency, said the count is carried out by a crew primarily made up of volunteers.

“We go out to any place where people might congregate to stay warm or gain access to services, so we go to Michigan Works!, the library, gas stations and local businesses who might see that population and we leave some information, contact cards and fliers,” she explained. “We talk to them about homelessness in the community because, as a rural community, we don’t always see it, but it really does exist.”

Information is given to a variety of local establishments that can provide homeless individuals with resources for services, and it also helps the PIT Count team identify areas to collect data.

“What we ask for people to do is, if you know someone who may be experiencing homelessness, first please give them a card if you are comfortable talking with them,” said Lapinski. “If you happen to know about where they’re staying, like if someone is sleeping under the (Maple Street) Bridge, we’d see who could check in on them and see how we can help.”

In addition to getting a better idea of the homeless population in any given county, Lapinski said the PIT Count also helps inform homeless individuals about services offered in the community.

“It’s not easy for someone to admit when they’re homeless, and it’s not easy for them to come in and ask for help,” she said. “This particular effort is for us to identify as many folks as possible who are living on the streets or in the woods or places not meant for human habitation.”

Lapinski said very little information is collected on each individual, but anyone identified is anonymously included in the count.

“Certainly, if they are not interested, we don’t push. There are a lot of folks, for a wide range of reasons, who don’t want services,” she said. “We mark it down that there is an individual, but we do not try and collect further information. We have strict confidentiality agreements for everyone, whether they want assistance or not.”

Lapinski said as few as a dozen people can help make the count go smoothly, and they welcome anyone to volunteer to assist in the effort. Volunteers take on small portions of each county, and popular areas such as campgrounds are checked first.
“Those numbers, which are compiled along with other data gathered outside of the PIT Count time, are used in our grant-writing process to seek funding,” she said. “If we show a need in this community, we are much more likely to get funding to help those individuals.”

Awareness of services and the ability to ask questions are key components for helping individuals in a homeless situation. According to Lapinski, many individuals reach out for services, but are ultimately able to resolve the situation on their own.

“It’s often very traumatizing to become homeless,” she said. “The more they know about our services up front, it helps with their fear and nervousness and they are able to move forward with greater ease.”

The PIT Count orientation will be held at 2 p.m. on Jan. 15 at Manistee County United Way, located at 449 River St. in Manistee. The count will take place on Jan. 30.

Those interested in volunteering for the PIT Count can contact Lapinski at (231) 775-9781 ext. 3117, or by email at t.lapinski@nmcaa.net.

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