A report based on a one-day count of Colorado Springs’ homeless population in January indicates that homelessness is on the rise, after falling from 2010 to 2011.
But don’t base that conclusion on the report itself. The point person for the Point in Time survey believes the higher number for 2012 reflects a broader and better surveying effort.
“Last year, we had 250 to 300 forms we could not use because the data was inadequate,” Anne Beer, director of community information systems for Pikes Peak United Way, told a meeting of homeless service providers Wednesday. “This year, a huge piece of it was, we had much better data in the paper forms, and therefore, we were able to count more people.”
Each year, toward the end of January, Beer spearheads the survey as part of HUD requirements to receive federal funding for homeless services. Volunteers are trained on how to do the survey, and they fan out to places where homeless people are likely to gather, such as the Marian House Soup Kitchen and the Salvation Army meal wagon. It can be a crap shoot; some people stay hidden, or don’t want to take the survey.
This year, Beer and her colleagues poured extra resources into the survey to get a more accurate count. Not only was the volunteer force about 50 percent bigger than last year’s, but the VA took on a bigger role.
“The VA put on a huge effort this year to count as many veterans as they could, and where last year, they turned in about 50 forms, this year, it was over 200,” said Beer, who released the results last week. “If you look at the veterans count, last year the total was 180; this year it was 230. So that accounts for a huge portion of the increase right there.”
From 2007 to 2010, the number of homeless people recorded in the survey rose each year, hitting a high of 1,463 in January 2010 as tent cities mushroomed near downtown and the west side.
In February 2010, Colorado Springs City Council passed a no-camping ordinance, and Homeward Pikes Peak and the HOT officers launched a massive outreach effort to get chronic homeless people into shelter and, if needed, programs to treat underlying conditions, such as mental illness and addiction. With the 2011 count, the number dropped to 1,024. The 2012 count was up to 1,127.
Although the survey shouldn’t be used to conclude that homelessness is on the rise, Greg Morris, director of the Peak Vista Homeless Medical Clinic, said Wednesday he has been swamped with people coming in for medical treatment — many of them with severe mental illness.
“I’m seeing more than I’ve seen in 17 years,” he said. “I can’t keep up.”
Beer acknowledges that the Point in Time survey can’t capture everyone who is homeless. As the name says, it’s a one-day snapshot that is only as accurate as the number of people who can be contacted and the information they provide.
“The unsheltered population is hard to get at,” she said. “It’s probably double what we’re counting.”
A snapshot of homelessness
Point-in-Time survey/total homeless
*No survey done in 2008
Homeless with severe mental illness: 241 (82 unsheltered)
Homeless with chronic substance abuse: 342 (82 unsheltered)
Victims of domestic violence 119 (8 unsheltered)
Households with at least one adult and child: 105, encompassing 318 individuals