COVID-19 drives cancellation of 2021 Point in Time Street Count

As the region continues to respond to the emergency of COVID-19, and particularly planning and providing ongoing support for people experiencing homelessness, Seattle-King County’s Continuum of Care (CoC) will be taking a different approach to the annual Point in Time (PIT) Count for 2021.  

Gathering large numbers of volunteers during a pandemic, typically over 1,000 people for King County’s count, is simply not advisable. In addition, the staff and volunteer resources normally dedicated to planning, organizing and conducting the community count are better prioritized in the ongoing and critical work to ensure the health and safety of people experiencing homelessness and working to reduce and contain the spread of COVID-19 among homeless communities throughout the county.

The annual street count of people experiencing homelessness normally conducted in January of each year will not take place in January 2021. The person-to-person surveys have also been canceled.  

The CoC, which has responsibility for overseeing the annual PIT count, requested and received approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to cancel the physical count of unsheltered individuals in 2021. A waiver of the requirement for a street count was also granted by the Washington State Department of Commerce. Locally, Snohomish, Pierce and Spokane counties have also requested waivers.

As in previous years, the one night shelter census count will still be conducted via the King County Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). The sheltered count will be submitted to HUD and to the state. Performance, Evaluation and Measurement staff in the Department of Community and Human Services will continue to regularly update the existing HMIS data dashboards. These resources fulfill many of goals of the traditional unsheltered count, such as reporting demographics on individuals experiencing homelessness, system performance, population trends by race/ethnicity, and the impacts of COVID-19 on the homeless population. This revised approach is necessary as our region continues to fight the pandemic.   

The Point in Time Count, locally referred to as Count Us In, is an important tool for bringing community together and increasing understanding for who is experiencing homelessness and why. It not only increases awareness of homelessness, it serves to inform our system response to the needs in our community. In particular, the different methods used in the PIT have helped to paint a clearer picture of the disproportionate impacts of homelessness on communities of color in our region, specifically the Black/African American community and Native American/Alaskan Native community.   

The CoC Board is calling on King County’s HMIS staff to prioritizetracking and reporting data year-round, with particular focus and attention to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color and other underreported populations. 

Responsibility for planning and coordinating the Point in Time Count will move to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority in 2022.