During the last ten days of January, towns and cities all across Indiana participate in a national point-in-time homeless count, mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for any city or town receiving federal homeless assistance grants since 2005. Typically, the count is done by volunteers who comb the area, finding and speaking to sheltered and unsheltered homeless Americans. It’s far from easy. Those suffering from homeless are often transitory; for this reason, it’s essential communities across the United States conduct counts in the same, short time span for greater accuracy. Mistrust, fear and mental illness often make individuals reluctant to admit homelessness or speak with those doing the counts, which makes volunteers so essential in the process. Even more difficult are counts of the young and homeless, who rarely ask for assistance and shy away from any official study. Church groups and communities across the country routinely commit indispensable resources for the homeless counts.
Accuracy is essential, since the numbers hold sway over a wide variety of economic and social programs. If the numbers are too low, a community is underserved and regional economies suffer. Too high, and accusations of inflated funding place future grants in jeopardy. It’s also a recordkeeper’s worst nightmare; registering people that have little or no paperwork, Social Security number, address or phone makes for a lot of blank space on forms, a surefire way of questioning accountability.
Although homeless rates across the nation have decreased over the last few years, thousands still reside in shelters and on the streets, hungry, exposed to the elements and reluctant to ask for assistance. These counts, currently conducted by communities across the Hoosier state, are the best tool we have in helping those most in need when they need it.