The Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness conducted their 2024 Point in Time count on Jan. 24. The PIT is a nationwide count, mandated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to assess the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night of the year in the last two weeks of January.
Beyond PIT, the R.I. Coalition to End Homelessness and other service providers conducted surveys across a period of one week to determine individuals housing situation on the night of Jan. 24. Results of the 2024 count will be available in late May or early June this year, according to a press release from the R.I. Coalition to End Homelessness.
According to the coalition Chief Strategy Officer Jennifer Barrera, the PIT assesses homelessness through surveying and the number of sheltered people experiencing housing insecurity by examining the Management Information Systems database information.
The data is then analyzed by specific demographics, paying special attention to at-risk populations like veterans, victims of domestic violence and transitional-age youth. Barrera also said the coalition is particularly interested in observing trends in chronic homelessness, which can inform policy related to permanent supportive housing, which provides assistance and supportive services to residents.
Juan Espinoza, communications and development manager of the coalition, said the count acts as a “barometer” of everything from the efficacy of housing policy to the changing state of homelessness in Rhode Island.
The most recent PIT count released in 2023 showed a 370% increase in unsheltered homelessness since 2019, according to the press release. Barrera attributed this surge to the COVID-19 pandemic. She added that, while it’s too early to assess this year’s count, the numbers seem to be trending above last year’s results.
According to Espinoza, the count can impact funding at the state and federal level and generate “greater urgency for more projects being put online sooner.”
Barrera explained that an increase in the number of unsheltered individuals indicates a need for more resources “on the street” such as day shelters, warming centers and street outreach workers. Increases in chronic homelessness indicate a need for more permanent supportive housing, for example.
At the state level, data is also compiled into HUD’s Annual Homelessness Assessment Report. Beyond being sent to Congress, the report helps the HUD make decisions around funding.
Long-term housing reform
While the PIT count helps inform policy, Barrera said the count alone is “not a panacea.” To fully address the housing crisis, she said changes must be made at the legislative level.
Barrera acknowledged the increased effort of elected officials over the past two years to produce robust housing bills, like R.I. House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi’s (D-Warwick) 14-bill package introduced last March. The bill package aimed “not only to develop affordable housing but also to prevent people from losing their housing,” Barrera said.
Austin Coppinger MD’27, community outreach and advocacy contact for the R.I. Medical Navigator Partnership, said that beyond the lack of subsidized housing, unhoused individuals often struggle with the lengthy wait times associated with applying for programs like Section 8 Housing.
“Homeless individuals often struggle to maintain access to a phone or computer, so by the time they reach the top of the waitlist and are contacted by the Providence Housing Authority — sometimes four or five years after applying — they have no means of responding,” Coppinger explained.
To ensure affordable housing units are available “in every city (and) town,” Barrera said, local governments and residents must cooperate to welcome affordable developments, despite the stigma that often targets the residents of affordable housing.
Barrera added that the increase of newly unhoused individuals must be addressed using eviction reforms and other prevention programs that occur throughout the state “in a really accessible, robust way.”
“Ultimately, coalitions and advocacy organizations must cooperate with the government to address homelessness,” Barrera said. She added that, ideally, the state would create an environment that enables on-the-ground practitioners to access resources and deliver good outcomes for the people they serve.
Espinoza added that the government should ensure that practitioners are supported in their work. They are “probably some of the hardest working people that you’ll ever see, but also some of the most underpaid people you’ll ever see,” he said.
Yael is a senior staff writer covering city and state politics. She is junior, and hails from the Bay Area.