One night every January serves as arguably the most important collection of data used to understand the extent of homelessness throughout the nation.
Called the “Point-in-Time” count, the night is when homeless advocates and volunteers attempt to count homeless individuals living in both shelters and out in the cold. The count is a requirement for any community receiving federal housing assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). It must take place during one of the last ten days of January, a period selected since the end of the month is usually when those facing homelessness have run out of financial assistance, and those who are out in the cold weather are likely to be the least able to secure shelter. It is a time when the impoverished feel the hardest hits of poverty, and a count of those who are the hardest hit.
For counting the homeless in rural Ohio in 2024, the Point in Time count took place on Jan. 23.
That night, Niki Brough, housing programs manager for Great Lakes Community Action Partnership (GLCAP), and her team of family advocates provided GLCAP’s share of data by taking the lead for counting homeless in Ottawa, Sandusky, Seneca, and Wood County, as well as assisting in Huron County’s Point-in-Time counts.
Along with Christina Keller, a family advocate with GLCAP, Brough looked in select areas in Sandusky County, including locations in Bellevue, Clyde, Fremont, Gibsonburg, and Lindsey. Specifically, GLCAP staff were looking for unsheltered homeless as opposed to sheltered homeless, which are counted on the same night by staff and volunteers at area homeless shelters. GLCAP staff, on the other hand, were searching for those who did not have a safe place to stay that evening, and were thus out in the cold.
“We gathered results for known places where those experiencing homelessness may reside,” Brough said. “We look in parking lots, parks, places with open lobbies, and other areas where individuals experiencing homelessness may take shelter.”
Along with Brough and Keller, GLCAP staff taking part in the count in other counties included Sonya Adcock, Kandy Carmona, Cathy Elwood, Michelle Foster, Shawna Hartman, Ann Lau, and Tina Smith. GLCAP Regional Rental Assistance Manager Susan Wren also worked to provide local planning for the area to help organize the count. Staff work in pairs and are asked to record as much detail as possible. If able, they may talk with individuals they encounter that evening. Otherwise, staff take notes about those who they observe. This data is then submitted to the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), which aggregates data from all collectors before submitting to HUD for the final report.
Staff encountered two homeless individuals that evening. Brough and Keller observed one person sleeping in a car in a parking lot that evening. As counters are advised not to wake anyone who may be sleeping and risk startling that person, the pair wrote down details that suggested the person was likely homeless.
“The car looked like it was being lived in,” Brough said. “The person was in the passenger seat, wearing layers, and we could see noticeable items filling the car.”
Another person was observed sleeping in the lobby of a Wood County laundromat, a place that usually keeps round-the-clock hours and can offer warmth for someone looking for shelter in the evening.
Though staff only observed two individuals that evening, other organizations or volunteers may provide additional data to COHHIO for the count.
Last year, 653,104 unsheltered and sheltered homeless were counted throughout the United States, up from 582,462 the previous year. In Ohio, that figure stood at 11,386 in 2023. While these numbers are estimates, the data serves as the best means of documenting homelessness.
In their day-to-day work, Brough and family advocates working in GLCAP’s housing assistance programs provide services that prevent at-risk individuals and families from becoming homeless, or move people from homelessness into safe, stable housing. In 2022, GLCAP provided housing services to 821 households (including 239 veteran housesholds).
“We share information on our services wherever possible to make sure that those who need housing, have it,” Brough said.
Details on GLCAP’s housing services are available at www.glcap.org/housinghelp or by calling 1-800-775-9767.