An independent news publication of
United Way of Lancaster County


Upcoming homelessness Point-in-Time Count is more than data collection (opinion)

Unsheltered individuals frequently make use of Binns Park and the perimeter of the County Government Center. (Photos: Tim Stuhldreher)

In Lancaster County, as many places across the country, we know the stark reality that many shelters, interim and permanent housing options, and voucher programs have waiting lists.

People want and need a place that feels safe, but that can often be out of reach or delayed. To understand where and to whom homelessness is happening, we need to collect the data. 

The US Housing & Urban Development Department (HUD) Point-In-Time (PIT) Count is an annual census of individuals experiencing either sheltered or unsheltered homelessness within a given geographic area. Jurisdictions nationwide conduct this count at the end of January to ensure consistency in data collection and to gain a more accurate picture of a community’s unmet shelter and housing needs. 

This year, the Lancaster County Office for the Homelessness Coalition has intentionally revised the structure for the PIT Count to focus on the professional expertise of a wider range of partners.

The count will take place Wednesday, Jan. 25. We’re excited that we will have more service providers’ staff actively interviewing people, ensuring that homeless individuals and families are met in the places they know by familiar faces. 

Organizations providing services to individuals and families experiencing or at risk of homelessness who are interested in participating with the annual PIT Count, please contact me at  

Collected data is included in the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR), provided to Congress each year, which demonstrates the need for federal money to support homeless programs.

Additionally, this data is a scoring factor which influences the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development’s grant award decisions, the number of vouchers (i.e., Emergency Housing Vouchers) received by a community and is viewed as an assessment of local progress.

This vital information highlights what is happening in our community, informs our standards and planning strategies, tracks outcomes, and demonstrates progress toward preventing and ending homelessness. It also plays a critical role in raising public awareness.

However, this is more than collecting numbers. It is an opportunity to connect with people experiencing or at risk of homelessness to learn their history and provide needed services. 

If people are interested in supporting this vital work, we are accepting donations of hand/toe warmers, water bottles, blankets and soft non-perishable food items. Email to make arrangements.