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Alameda County’s Point-in-Time count is different this year

Volunteers get organized at St. Mary's Center before the 2024 P-I-T count
Wren Farrell
Volunteers get ready at St. Mary's Center before the 2024 P-I-T count

At five o’clock on Thursday morning, more than a hundred volunteers met at St. Mary’s Center in Oakland. They were there to help conduct Alameda County’s Point-in-Time, or P-I-T count. It’s the calculation of people experiencing homelessness on a single given night in January.

Some of those volunteers spoke about why they had signed up.

“I just wanted to be able to contribute to helping, you know, resolve our unhoused crisis.”

“It's an issue that I care a lot about. I'm certainly concerned that not enough is being done for the homeless population.”

The P-I-T count’s happen nationwide in January. The data is used to determine how much federal funding cities and county’s need for resources and programs related to homelessness.

Normally, volunteers in Alameda County don’t talk to the people they’re counting, but this year the county did things differently.

“Here, let me show you the app on the radio.”  

This is Sharon Cornu, she’s the executive director of St. Mary’s Center. She says, this year, the county is using an app and a survey to get more detailed information about its homeless population.

“The outreach workers go through a series of about 10 questions,” Sharon said.

There are normal demographic questions about race, age, gender, and sexuality, but also more personal and complicated questions about things like substance abuse, mental illness, and the circumstances that led to them being unhoused.

Kawal Ulanday and Braz Shabrell volunteered during Thursday morning’s P-I-T count. They spent the first two hours of the morning driving through West Oakland.

“We could start uh, let’s do a drive actually. We’re starting, we’re starting our count," said Braz.

But they had trouble finding people to survey. The streets were empty, it was dark and cold, and they spent most of their time trying to determine whether or not certain vehicles were being lived in.

“It's not an easy call to make. I like, I, I, I would feel like that's…” 

“You wanna count this car?” Asked Braz.

“Yeah, I do.”  Kawal responded.

“Yeah. I think that's probably someone sleeping there. You can tell there's blankets on it. Keep it insulated.”

They counted a handful of vehicles that looked like they were being lived in and even fewer individuals who were unsheltered. After less than two hours, they were done canvassing their section of West Oakland, and ended up going to a busier area, near San Pablo Avenue and Market St.

"Hey, how it's going?"

Word spread quickly that Kawal and Braz were exchanging gift cards for surveys and a line formed. But after about an hour, they were out of gift cards and it was time to head back to St. Mary’s.

Here’s Sharon Conru again.

“The statistical team takes over now and works their magic to align all the numbers and do the verification and analysis.”

Data from the P-I-T count won’t be released for several months, so we don’t know if Alameda County’s homeless population has continued to increase or not.

Wren Farrell (he/him) is a writer, producer and journalist living in San Francisco.