Nationwide homeless count tries to capture snapshot of Sioux Falls homeless population

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The Point in Time data, part of a nation-wide survey of people experiencing homelessness, is collected via an app on a volunteer's phone.
The Point in Time data, part of a nation-wide survey of people experiencing homelessness, is collected via an app on a volunteer's phone.

As people bundled in hats and winter coats waited to be checked-in at the Bishop Dudley House for the night, two volunteers and three staff members with smartphones and free one-day bus passes grabbed people one at a time.

They asked the same set of questions, from how often the person had experienced homelessness to why they were experiencing homelessness.

The questions are part of an annual state and nationwide survey required by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to try and get a snapshot in one night in January of the amount of people experiencing homelessness, often referred to as the "point in time homeless count."

The count, said Suzanne Smith, the Assistant Vice President for enterprise data analytics at the Augustana Research Institute, and who helps coordinate the one-night count for Sioux Falls, can be used a variety of ways from understanding who might be facing chronic homelessness to the amount of emergency beds available in shelters.

"That information helps policymakers and leaders and all of these various organizations to kind of strategize about the best ways to use limited resources to try to end homelessness," she said.

HUD provides grants for states through the federal Continuum of Care program, which is then used to help providers get the funding they may need. The South Dakota Housing For The Homeless Consortium is the Continuum of Care program in the state.

In Sioux Falls, the highest number of people experiencing homelessness was 488 in 2014, according to South Dakota Housing Development Authority data. In South Dakota, the highest number of people statewide experiencing homelessness was 1,186 in 2016. The 2022 count will be released in April.

Data for the point-in-time count goes back to 2014.

More: Homeless students are harder to track in Sioux Falls schools during COVID pandemic, data shows

During the count Tuesday night, volunteers went to the Union Gospel Mission, Bishop Dudley and two volunteers participated in a ride-along with police to try and survey people sleeping outside on a night when the predicted low was in the negative teens.

For some of the volunteers like Rosie Melgoza, 19 and a freshman at Augustana, it was her first time doing the count. She said she was learning how to casually approach people and show compassion.

"We don't want to make them feel uncomfortable or shame or any type of thing and really, it benefits them because the money is going towards them and their needs," Melgoza said.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Nationwide homeless count takes place in Sioux Falls

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