On any given night there are over 2,000 homeless people in Broward County - a number that has been cut in half over the past eight years, according to the county’s Point-In-Time Count (PIT).
The count is an annual survey of people sleeping on the streets and in homeless shelters in a single night. It is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The information collected from the survey does not only give a brief snapshot of homelessness in Broward, but it also helps HUD determine how to fund the areas homeless services.
However, according to Broward’s PIT coordinator Shira Fowlkes, the single night surveys do not fully capture homelessness in the area. External factors like the weather or a homeless person’s willingness to participate can be the deciding factor between a good or bad year.
On top of this, HUD’s homeless definition does not include people who are unstably housed. Broward’s school district identified over 2,000 unstably housed children that would not be counted.
WLRN’s Andrew Quintana spoke with Fowlkes about how her team counts homeless people. The first night of the count takes place Wednesday, January 23rd.
Fowlkes: We have a group called the “Task Force for Ending Homelessness in Broward County” - and that's our homeless task force group. They know this population, where the encampments are - places that are known to have homeless individuals. That's the primary place that we start with. We’ll try to interview them. If there aren’t any people, that's when we try to get our volunteers to drive around, see if they see some folks that appear to be homeless. And as far as the meal sites - like a soup kitchen. The meal sites have a more captive audience so you kind of know that those folks that are there are more than likely homeless or they're at risk of being homeless.
WLRN: What about those families that are couch surfing, or they're receiving services, or they're in transitional housing. They're not fully homeless but they are suffering some way with homelessness. Are they counted?
So per HUD, no. On the government level, they do have two different groups of homelessness. We have the HUD definition, which does not include those that are couch surfing. The school board actually captures those that are couch surfing or doubled up as homeless, which always makes it a little difficult when we do our reporting because when you listen to the school board numbers they're astronomical compared to what we report for HUD - and that's really because of that group that is considered at risk and couch surfing.
Do you think the count accurately reflects the state of homelessness in Broward?
The biggest thing that I like to stress with this is that it is a point in time. It is more than likely an undercount. I can't say to what extent it's an undercount. But we take that into consideration - and we also take into consideration that we're looking at one specific date. And so if somebody was on the street on Monday, and our PIT date is on Tuesday, and they're couch surfing - they're not considered homeless per HUD because they were on somebody’s couch that Tuesday.
As far as the last few years for Broward. Over the past five years the numbers kind of fluctuated. What do those numbers say about Broward’s homeless population?
So one thing I always find that's funny is that every year, during our count, the weather is horrible. So we either have the cold nights, or we have rain, or we have cold weather and rain - and then one year we actually had one of our headquarters get hit by a tornado. The one year that it went up, which is what you're referring to, is the one year that we've had wonderful weather. It was in the 70s, it was sunny, and it was a lot easier to find folks on the street. Those years were it’s cold or it’s rainy - it's almost like a ghost town.