The passion is evident in Paul Prociv’s voice as he explains the value of Pierce County’s Point-In-Time Count. “It’s important to realize that everyone counts,” Prociv, the civic engagement specialist at the Center for Service and Leadership (CSL) said.
The Point-In-Time Count is a county-specific, annual survey of individuals experiencing homelessness. Mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the survey equips non-profit and resource organizations with data necessary to understand the needs of the community. "Any county that wants to receive HUD funding has to participate in the Point-In-Time," said Janet Runbeck, a lecturer in—and a 2006 alumna of—Nursing and Healthcare Leadership. "The survey is helpful because when counties do receive money, it shows us how we can best spend that money to address the issue of homelessness."
Runbeck teaches a course called “Health, Communities and Populations” (T NURS 414). The T NURS 414 students were one of two classes trained by the count to help conduct the count. The other was Thea Drescher’s social work class called “Social Work in Organizations and Communities”. Students volunteering through the CSL also received training with students from Runbeck and Drescher’s courses.
Students helped administer the survey at the end of January. Through their courses and the Center for Service and Leadership, they were able to gain real-world experience deepening their understanding of the issues around homelessness. “There is something to be said about connecting with the community, being able to apply what you’re learning in class to the real world,” said the CSL’s Local Services and Events Coordinator Carly Dunn. “Even though I'm in a volunteer position, I'm learning just the same.”
New this year, volunteers administered the survey electronically through an app called “Counting Us.” This made conducting the survey easier, as volunteers didn’t have to struggle with stacks of paper in the cold and rain. In Pierce County, administering the survey required face-to-face interactions thus obligating volunteers to genuinely engage those experiencing homelessness.
The Point-In-Time Count gives students a chance to both learn and give back. “Being in a city and seeing a lot of homelessness around, it's important to see that you can make a difference in how that story is portrayed,” said Dunn. “The more hands you have in obtaining information about an issue, the more likely it is to be addressed to the fullest extent.”
In each community where students volunteered small acts of kindness made the Point-In-Time Count more than a counting of heads. Whether it was someone donating supplies and knitting scarves, or a student volunteering to assist in executing the survey, the count made possible the chance for people to learn, engage, and understand the plight of those experiencing homelessness. “If it weren't for the mandate, all those little interactions on the ground wouldn't have happened, at least not in that fashion,” Runbeck said. “It's sort of the point in time where we all come together.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org