SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — On Thursday, volunteers began going around the state of Utah to get an accurate count of those experiencing homelessness as part of the Point-in-Time (PIT) Count.
This is a nationwide count that happens every January. It’s meant to get an updated assessment of homeless populations, as well as what resources they need and what can be done to address homelessness.
According to the Utah Office of Homeless Services, last year’s numbers showed around 3,700 homeless individuals in Utah for the duration of the count.
It also revealed there was an increase in individuals experiencing homelessness by 131 compared to 2022.
“It’s interesting because about 30,000 people accessed homeless services last year in the state, so it’s important to remember this is a count that is one point in time and that the people experiencing homelessness are actually a lot more than that,” said Tricia Davis, the assistant director of the Utah Office of Homeless Services.
“What we’re really trying to do is get a count of people who are sheltered and unsheltered in our state, and that’s a number that we use for planning purposes, crisis, winter response, and to inform what’s happening as far as trends,” Davis said.
The count is happening throughout the state. In Salt Lake County, a record 415 volunteers will be out for the next few days to do just that.
Jason Miller and Chad Winter were among them. On Thursday, they spent the morning interviewing homeless individuals in Salt Lake City, also handing them blankets, water and food certificates.
“People that are living on the streets are one of our most vulnerable populations,” Miller said. “I feel like this is a great opportunity for me to help, for me to give back, for me to help some people in our society that really need help.”
Survey questions include topics such as barriers to housing as well as physical and mental health.
Miller and Winter said their experiences have been eye-opening.
“One of the first people we walked upon last year was a gentleman sleeping underneath a pile of snow. He just hadn’t moved in a few hours, and we were worried about his health. Fortunately, he was OK, but he was severely underdressed. He only had a flannel shirt on. So, you know, of course, we gave him blankets and coats and hats and things like that,” Miller said.
He continued: “After that, we were at a 7-Eleven and we met a bunch of people there and one person had just had surgery on their foot and the doctors had ordered him to stay off of his feet … When you don’t have a place to stay and you’re on the streets, you can’t stay off of your feet. And so, you know, he was hurting. He really needed help. We call EMS to give him, you know, the help that he needed.”
Winter shared that he enjoys speaking one-on-one with each individual he meets to understand them more on a personal level.
He hopes the count will help bring more solutions for homelessness.
“One of the things that I’ve learned being out here is that there is a variety of situations that bring people to the streets,” Winter said. “Usually, it’s just individuals that have found themselves in a string of bad luck and are out here for the first time or have a hard time getting back up on their feet … What I’ve mostly discovered is that people have a lot of different stories and they’re eager to share them with you.”
Volunteers will continue the count during the next few mornings through Saturday and results are expected in May.