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Adriana Camarda of the Department of Family & Social Services, advises volunteers in advance of the city's Point-In-Time Homeless Count Tuesday.

Chicago counts homeless population Tuesday night

by Jennifer Kirby
Jan 22, 2013

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Jennifer Kirby/MEDILL

Alexandria Banks will volunteer for the point-in-time homeless count and offers some advice to fellow volunteers.

Jennifer Kirby/MEDILL

Alexandria Banks, who is currently homeless, describes her motivation to volunteer for the survey.

Chicago is conducting its Point-In-Time Homeless Count Tuesday night, the city’s official survey of its homeless population living on the streets and in shelters.

With temperatures predicted to dip to single digits overnight, more than 300 volunteers, as well as city staff and service providers, will canvass the entire city to record the number of individuals and families sleeping on Chicago’s streets. Shelter staff and social service providers will also tally the number of homeless in shelters, said Alisa Rodriguez, assistant director of Homeless Programs for the City of Chicago.

Once providers record the number of people in shelters, volunteers will be sent out for the official street count, she said.

Along with Chicago, approximately 3,000 cities and counties will coordinate point-in-time counts the last 10 days of January. HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said they standardize this because January is traditionally the coldest month nationwide. Even those individuals and families who avoid the shelter system are more likely to come inside during frigid temperatures, allowing jurisdictions to account for the greatest number of people, he said.

Chicago’s cold spell, then, may strengthen the accuracy of the count. “It’s much easier to count you inside in shelter, in a bed, than it is out on the street,” said Adriana Camarda, of the City’s Department of Family & Support Services.

First-time volunteer Elizabeth Ball-Crudup said she wasn’t worried about the cold. “The homeless, regardless of what situation they’re in, everybody needs somebody,” she said. “If they know that somebody does care, it’s uplifting and warming.”

Teams will work until about 2 a.m. to complete the street count. They are tasked with tallying individuals and, when possible, engaging people through a short survey to help assess the needs of Chicago’s homeless.

Camarda said the survey is the primary reason they complete the count. “It is to know a little bit more about the population that it serves and what services and what needs that they have,” she said.

Volunteers will also have hats and gloves to distribute, as well as resource cards with information about emergency and shelter services, Camarda said.

Deborah’s Place is a social service agency participating in the count. Chief operations officer Kathy Wilson said volunteer engagement is the most important part of the process.

“We’re really ensuring that HUD knows the magnitude of how much homelessness we have in Chicago,” Wilson said. The data will be used to determine federal funding for local services.

The city also enlists other agencies, including the CTA, Chicago Police Department, Chicago Park District, Chicago Housing Authority and the Chicago Department of Aviation. Camarda said these agencies coordinate with specialized teams who cover public transit routes, airports, public housing and abandoned buildings to account for as many street homeless as possible and to protect volunteer safety.

The Department of Family & Support Services annually reports the number of people living in shelters to HUD, but only coordinates the street count every two years.

“Street counts are hard,” said HUD’s Sullivan. “[It] requires marshaling hundreds of volunteers in a place like Chicago.”

HUD estimates Chicago’s homeless population reached 6,710 in 2012. In 2011, Family & Social Services reported 6,598 homeless people, with 1,725 people sleeping on the streets or public spaces, in the last point-in-time survey.