Street Sense staff

“Hello, my name is Joanna and I was wondering if you would fill out my survey tonight.”

A chorus of introductions began as nearly 50 volunteers for the annual Point-in-Time count of the homeless practiced their lines at Foundry United Methodist Church in Northwest Washington.

They were preparing for the night of Jan. 29 when, armed with clipboards and questionnaires, they were scheduled to go out and comb the city’s streets, alleys and parks seeking homeless people to include in the homeless census, now in its 14th year.

Volunteers are equipped with survey forms to complete for every engagement. The chronically homeless will remember most of the questions from previous years, according to Tom Fredericksen, of the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, which manages the District’s annual count.

Questions about name, location, age, as well as more personal questions relating to personal health, disability and employment are included on survey forms.

The count provides a “point-in-time” snapshot of the city’s homeless population that helps officials plan for needs such as shelters, transitional and supportive housing as well as programs that can help address the underlying causes of homeless.

People living on the street who are willing to complete the survey will receive a 10 dollar gift card to McDonald’s.

While volunteers go street by street, shelters will be passing around the survey to those inside, Fredericksen said during the training. Such efforts are being replicated in the District’s Maryland and Virginia suburbs, and across the country. The results are submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds homeless programs nationwide.

“HUD uses the count to monitor changes in the size of the homeless population in jurisdictions across the country, especially as it relates to key sub-populations like unaccompanied youth, veterans, and the chronically homeless,” an official at Community Partnership explained in a later interview. “Locally, the information is used for those purposes as well but also to understand the needs of the city’s homeless population in order to identify any gaps in the system and plan future allocations of resources to meet those needs.”

Here in the District, last year’s count found a total of 6,865 homeless people, a 1.4 percent decrease from 2012. The figure included 512 living on the street, 4,010 in emergency shelters and 2,343 in transitional programs. The numbers indicated a 3.1 percent decline in the number of homeless families living in the District from the previous year.

A total of 983 families were reported, down from 1,014 in 2012.

Region-wide, a total of 11,547 homeless men, women and children were counted.

Volunteers at the training session for the District’s 2014 count were told to bring sturdy footwear, a flashlight and adequate clothing for a night forecast to reach near single-digits.

In the case of bad weather, a 24-hour delay would be placed on the census.