Backpacks filled with food and water bottles awaited people at the Rescue Mission who agreed to participate Thursday in a nationwide effort to count the number of people experiencing homelessness.
The undertaking lasted all day – from about 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. – and involved two other downtown sites: St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church and Freimann Square, said the Rev. Donovan Coley, Rescue Mission president and CEO.
The Point in Time Count is used to determine the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January. It is a critical way for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to identify the needs of and allocate federal resources to those experiencing homelessness, both sheltered and unsheltered, the agency said.
“The PIT Count is one of the most important tools the federal government has to understand local needs and to measure trends in homelessness,” department Secretary Marcia Fudge said in a statement.
The 2020 count found 580,466 people – including 5,625 Hoosiers – experienced homelessness nationwide on a single night, an increase of 12,751 people, or 2.2%, from 2019, according to federal data. Indiana data doesn't list specific numbers for Fort Wayne, though Coley said the count showed about 350 homeless people in the city last year.
He said the count typically doesn't capture the entire population it aims to tally, “but it does provide a snapshot.”
At the Rescue Mission, willing participants answered questions at tables set up in the chapel, an area visible from the dining area. Organizers wanted to make participation as easy as possible and hoped people would get counted after they ate, said Blake Douglas, director of marketing and communications.
“It's all by choice,” he said.
The Rescue Mission is a natural site for the count because it's a popular gathering place, Coley said, but the downtown nonprofit doesn't financially benefit from the effort. Instead, he said, the data collected helps determine regional funding allocations, which qualified groups can apply for.
“We're helping other organizations,” Coley said.