Montgomery County’s annual homeless census might give a brief view of the county’s homeless population at one point in time, but one councilman wants the effort — conducted Thursday — to give the homeless something as well.
The census is required for recipients of federal Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance Grant funding. Each year, the county must count people living unsheltered, in emergency shelters or in transitional housing on one night in the last 10 days of January. It reports the data back to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government, county spokeswoman Mary Anderson said.
But the county needs to go beyond merely acknowledging the homeless during its point-in-time count, Councilman George L. Leventhal said the day of the count.
Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park, who chairs the council’s Health and Human Services Committee, volunteered for the count for the first time this year.
“We need to do a better job of offering something to the client,” he said.
Short of telling the homeless they encountered of a number they can call for help, there was little volunteers could offer, he said.
“Once we’ve found them, we need to be a little clearer about how to get them in from outside,” he said.
County Health and Human Services director Uma Ahluwalia said often the survey does result in follow-up.
But as it must be completed in a 24-hour period, volunteers are under a significant time crunch during the survey, she said.
Acknowledging the count as an “imperfect tool,” Leventhal said it is what the county has to measure whether homelessness is rising or declining.
From 2010 to 2012, the number of homeless people decreased from 1,064 to 979, according to data from the census.
But to truly assess the success of the county’s programs for the homeless, including the Housing First program, which focuses on moving individuals into permanent housing, more counts are needed, Leventhal said.
Anecdotally, Ahluwalia said, the county is seeing more homeless individuals placed in permanent supportive housing, but external factors such as the recession are affecting results.
“We definitely need more analysis and assessment,” she said. “We constantly live in fear that if there were budget cuts, whether at the federal, state or local level, that would impact our ability to keep building on our gains.”
Results from this year’s census will not be available for weeks, Anderson said.
Data collected during the census this year was gathered by three teams, totalling about 50 volunteers, who went to about 20 known areas where homeless live, libraries and restaurant bathrooms. It was also gathered from shelters and transitional housing.