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Vermont To Conduct Annual Point-In-Time Survey Of Homeless Population

The annual Point-in-Time Survey on Tuesday night will attempt to chronicle the number of homeless people in each county around the state.  

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that regional and local continuum-of-care groups carry out the survey in their communities, and the data is part the application to receive funding from HUD.

Marcy Esbjerg is the collaborative applicant for the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance and the coordinator for the point-in-time survey count. She spoke to VPR about the survey and how the state uses the data.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the full audio above.

VPR: Could you briefly explain the mechanics and the methodology of how this survey works?

Esbjerg: "We do the survey on several levels. The first is working with state. So it's one survey that we all decide to do together.

"We spend about a half a year agreeing on the format, the questions, that sort of thing. And then our first line of defense is working with all the providers.

"Chittenden County has a number of agencies that work directly with the homeless. So the survey goes to them and they do the survey with the clients that they serve."

And then, physically, how does that work? People go out in the field and they just start looking for people that are that are out on the streets?

"Not just those that are out and about, but those that are staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing, those that come into the daytime shelter.

"Then the second line of defense is to go out in the highways and byways, the encampments the doorways, under the bridges. And when we use volunteers as well as the outreach coordinators from Safe Harbor, which is a health care for homeless project, and go out, and that is how we count people that are not sheltered."

Why is this data valuable?

"It's valuable because through that data we learn about our needs and our progress.

"We get to see what kind of progress we're making ... It helps inform the type of services we have or we need." — Marcy Esbjerg, Chittenden County Homeless Alliance

"For example, last year we counted 332 homeless in Chittenden County. That was down from the year before, 471, and that was down from the year before, 532.

"So we get to see what kind of progress we're making. And then based on the numbers and categories, for example are we seeing a lot of families, are we seeing a lot of individuals, are seeing a lot of youth, it helps inform the type of services we have or we need."

And does this translate all that information into federal dollars coming to Vermont to fight homelessness?

"It absolutely does. And every year we put together an application that goes into the Department of Housing and Urban Development for our continuum of care funding.

"We have to tell them how we've done the count, what our numbers are and we actually get scored better when we're seeing progress. So that's why it's so important to do it and [have] consistent numbers."

What does this HUD funding go towards?

"This year we just received word of our funding, we got $1.14 million. And I want to say 60 to 75 percent of the funding goes directly to housing programs: rental subsidies, permanent supportive housing, even rapid re-housing for domestic violence victims.

"And then we have two projects which are very important for the overall systems: our homeless management information system ... helps us follow clients [and] see where what our trends are and then also a coordinated entry program.

"Again, both of those programs are mandated by HUD, but it's really just their design for us to be more efficient and effective with our services and with our funding."

How accurate is the point-in-time survey given that it only represents numbers for one specific night?

"It's a snapshot. It's a point in time. So obviously people come in and out of homelessness during the year, but again, it is a consistent number year after year. And I think that it's important to have that consistency.

"Many communities around the country log this being a very firm, clear picture, especially in the dead of winter, of what kind of homeless population you have."

You talked about the importance of the HUD funding. How much concern do you have HUD funding coming to Vermont under the new Trump administration?

"I am generally not an alarmist, so I would not want to be alarmist about this. I think that the continuum of care grant program has done a really good job in the last few years targeting funds, asking communities to make some difficult decisions.

"It is actually less expensive to house somebody who's been homeless than it is to leave them on the streets ... And I think that's an argument that will resonate with the Trump administration."

"So we've already gotten into the mindset, whether we like it or not, of making some choices about how we want to spend the funds as a community.

"We hope to make homelessness rare and brief here, but we'll always have a need for emergency shelter. And I believe that Dr. [Ben] Carson, hopefully soon-to-be [HUD] Secretary Carson, will agree with not wanting to see anybody die on the streets, but also what's an effective and efficient use of funds.

"And it is actually less expensive to house somebody who's been homeless than it is to leave them on the streets and put them dependent on our emergency rooms, our infrastructure, our 911, all of those things. And I think that's an argument that will resonate with the Trump administration."

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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