One volunteer’s view of the Point-in-Time homeless count

By Jennifer Cushman

After my first day of work at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless as a policy specialist, I spent the night as a volunteer for the city of Chicago’s Point-in-Time Homeless Count. While I had signed up to volunteer months ago, it was a fitting way to start my time with CCH.

The “PIT Count” is a tally of all shelter and living-on-the-street homeless people that is required every two years for municipalities that receive federal HUD funding. In Chicago it is coordinated by the city’s Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) and involves more than 200 volunteers and homeless service provider staff at sites across the city.

Last night I was assigned to the Polish American Association (PAA) on Chicago’s Northwest Side, near where I live. As attendees gathered, talking and drinking coffee, I noticed that Polish was the preferred language of most. So, it would have been more inclusive and more effective if the city representative had co-led the group with the site staff and conducted a pre-departure training in both English and Polish. 

Nonetheless, everyone got off to an enthusiastic start and I went out with a team comprised of two PAA staff and one of the organization’s homeless clients. I didn’t ask the gentleman why he volunteered, but he clearly expressed concern for people who might be out on the street by discussing news of those who had died in Chicago so far this year from cold exposure.

I also learned that several other consumers of homeless services (current or formerly homeless people) were volunteers for the count at that site. I also made some new friends and learned several Polish words, which my tired brain quickly forgot by 2 a.m. when the count was over. Although the PIT Count will likely, as in past years, deliver numbers representing only a small portion of the total homeless population of the city, it does seem to be an opportunity for community members to actively participate in addressing a significant community need, and I was glad to have been able to join them.