This means that the actual number of people experiencing homelessness at any one point in time can fluctuate for several reasons, such as weather conditions, shelter bed availability, and economic conditions. The total number of persons served in shelter and housed by the CoC housing programs often exceeds the PIT Count number. This can lead to confusion, especially as shelters report out a different number of people served than the CoC reports through the PIT Count. However, the difference in numbers is usually attributed to the period the report is looking at – one day is vastly different than a full year of service.
Additionally, the PIT Count, as prescribed by HUD to reduce variations in data quality, is limited in who it can consider as “homeless.” Persons who are in jail, hospital, couch surfing, living out of their cars but working during the day, or doubled up with another household in too-small-a-unit, may either be missed by the counters or not eligible for the PIT Count. For example, Wichita Public School’s McKinney-Vento program identified that 1,621 students aged 0-18 were served by their program in the 2022-2023 school year. However, because of the difference in definitions of what counts as homeless, the CoC reported only serving 374 0–18-year-olds in a similar period.
So, how many people are experiencing homelessness, anyway?