The Point-In-Time (PIT) count is an annual event, but this year will look different due to COVID-19 precautions. 

What is the Point-In-Time count?

This Wednesday, January 27, Michigan communities will participate in an annual event to produce a snapshot of the number of people experiencing homelessness during the coldest month of the year. The Point-In-Time (PIT) count takes place on the last Wednesday of January and is required for homelessness programs that are funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

During the traditional PIT count, communities tally the number of people in shelters (including domestic violence shelters) and the number of people who are unsheltered (e.g., sleeping in tent cities, in their cars, or in abandoned buildings).

The PIT count is a great way for homeless service providers  to directly engage with the general public about working together to end homelessness, and to help create stronger housing advocates by getting stably-housed people to volunteer with PIT. For communities that don’t have regular outreach resources, it’s also an opportunity to build better relationships with unsheltered individuals so as to connect them to resources.

How is COVID-19 affecting this year’s count?

This year, due to risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, communities could request a waiver for the unsheltered portion of the PIT count. Many Michigan communities, including 61 rural counties falling within the Michigan Balance of State Continuum of Care, will not be participating in the unsheltered portion of the PIT Count. HUD is still requiring service providers to count the number of individuals residing in shelters.

The PIT count already has many limitations, such as the short time frame for surveying (one to three nights), heavy reliance on volunteers, unpredictable weather, language barriers, individuals constantly on the move, safety issues with traversing abandoned buildings and more.  When coupled with the changes brought about by COVID-19, we’re looking at a significant gap in knowledge from a count typically used to inform decision makers about the state of homelessness in our communities.

What other tools do we have to understand Michigan homelessness?

The PIT count is just one tool Michigan communities can use to raise awareness of homelessness at the state and local level. In addition to the PIT count, Michigan is a leader in collecting and evaluating data on experiences of homelessness through the Michigan State Homeless Management Information System (MSHMIS). The Michigan Campaign to End Homelessness recently published the 2019 annual report which identifies that over 61,000 individuals experienced homelessness in Michigan in 2019.

“As Michiganders recover from the physical, mental, and financial effects of COVID-19, housing is going to become a critical need for folks who never experienced housing instability before as well as an ongoing struggle for those currently experiencing homelessness. We have opportunities to better understand homelessness in our state through tools like the PIT count and the Michigan State Homeless Management Information System,” said Eric Hufnagel, executive director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness. “Only by understanding what homelessness looks like in our state can we hope to find solutions so that everyone has access to safe housing.”

Learn more about the PIT Count and HMIS with our new resource  and register for our upcoming to learn more about how you can use the 2019 annual report in your communications and advocacy efforts.

By Preston Van Vliet, Capacity Building Coordinator, Americorps VISTA . You can contact him at: