Conversations over Coffee: Point-In-Time

Conversations over coffee with Pillars

February 6, 2020

Point-In-Time has become more than a homeless count

Point-In- Time (PIT) is a coordinated effort throughout the nation in which volunteers take to the streets to count and help local people unsheltered, living on the streets, or living in other places not meant for human habitation. PIT happens twice per year; January and July. The last count started at 11:00 pm on January 22 and went through 3:00 am on January 23.

Over the last several years, the twice-yearly PIT count has gone from a straightforward mechanism to count unsheltered people to being a means of getting needed resources to people struggling with homelessness in the Fox Cities.

Betsy Borns, Project Manager for Project Research to Understand and Solve Homelessness (Project RUSH) and Joe Mauthe, Executive Director of Pillars, spoke to a room of about 20 community members about PIT at Pillars bi-monthly Conversations over Coffee gathering on February 6.

In the January, 2020 PIT Count, 21 people were found in places not meant for human habitation – a record number for the winter count in the Fox Cities. There were a total of 222 people either on the streets, staying at Harbor House or Pillars shelters. Several dozen community volunteers and non-profit staff members, including several from Pillars, assisted the Fox Cities Housing Coalition with the count by combing through different areas in the Fox Cities.

In January of 2019, 396,045 people were classified as homeless in the United States. The count in the Fox Cities a year ago was 188, including 13 who were discovered in areas not meant for human habitation.

Location Jan, 2018 July, 2018 Jan, 2019 July, 2019 Jan, 2020
Unsheltered 13 29 13 32 21
Pillars Adult &

Family Shelter

72 74 75 75 82
Pillars Adult Shelter 44 61 62 59 61
Pillars Motel Vouchers 1 0 1 1 0
Harbor House 30 37 37 49 58
Total Homeless

Night of PIT Count

160 201 188 216 222

Borns said that the Fox Cities has fined-tuned how it does its PIT count over the years so that now our community is looked upon as an example for the rest of the state. In recent years, Borns explained, search routes have been altered according to where people have been discovered in the past.  Common spots for finding people outside are parking garages, under bridges, wooded areas, parks and in their cars parked outside of Walmart.

Another innovation over the years has been publicizing the upcoming PIT Count by word of mouth and with posters.  If people are homeless and unsheltered, they can now go to PIT headquarters at the Salvation Army in Appleton that night without having to be “found.”  This year, Borns said eight people came to the Salvation Army because they had nowhere else to go.  They were provided with a meal and were allowed to stay until 8 a.m. the next morning.

According to Mauthe, the PIT count is a mechanism to help communities evaluate services they are providing to people experiencing homelessness. On the night of the count, both the Pillars Adult Shelter and Pillars Adult & Family Shelter were at capacity so it was inevitable that individuals would be found outside. Pillars shelters will not turn away anyone who is literally homeless away if it is below +10 degrees. However, that doesn’t mean the recipe is simply providing more homeless shelter beds.  Homeless prevention and diversion is also a key part of the puzzle, as is the addition of more affordable housing units in the community. “We’re always looking for that balance,” Mauthe said.   

Echoing Borns’ enthusiasm for the improvement of the process, Mauthe, who has been part of several PIT counts in the Fox Valley, recalled observing a Pillars case manager talk to a client she encountered sleeping outside several years ago. He was awed by the compassion that she showed.  “It was a 10-minute discussion filled with dignity and love,” Mauthe recalled.  “It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the 21 people we found,” Mauthe said.  In the end, the goal is not merely to count people but to connect them to resources and help them forge a path to permanent housing.

Pillars vision is to lead our community in finding innovative, effective solutions so experiences of homelessness are rare and brief and everyone has a place to call home.

Pillars next Conversations over Coffee is Thursday, April 2 at 7:30 am. We will be discussing the relationship between Pillars and Harbor House. Conversations over Coffee take place in the Pillars Community Room, 609 E. Hancock St., Appleton. The event is free and open to the public. No registration required. We hope to see you there!