Exploring the 2024 Point In Time Count

by | Jun 18, 2024

In the cold, early morning hours on January 25, roughly 100 volunteers spread out across Oklahoma City to conduct the 2024 Point in Time (PIT) count. 1,838 individuals were found to be experiencing homelessness a 28% increase from 2023. Meghan Mueller, CEO of the Homeless Alliance, said that the increase was expected as the influx of funding to service providers from the COVID-19 pandemic ended.

While homelessness increased, the number of unsheltered individuals has decreased for the second year in a row. Oklahoma City’s first permanent winter shelter, which was open on the night of the PIT count, contributed to this outcome.
To truly grasp the scope of homelessness, it’s necessary to understand the purpose of the PIT count and the jargon used in this space. First, the PIT count is not meant to provide an exact count of people experiencing homelessness. Rather, it’s a snapshot of the number of people experiencing homelessness on one day. Any city receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is required to conduct a count every other year. In Oklahoma City it’s used to identify trends and gaps to better address areas of need and is conducted annually.
Although they are commonly used interchangeably, the terms “homeless” and “unsheltered” are not the same. Unsheltered describes someone who is living outside of a home or housing structure, such as a car or outside in a tent. Homeless describes someone who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. They could be staying in shelters or living in transitional housing. Someone who is homeless may not necessarily be unsheltered.
Mental health and substance use are often intertwined factors for people experiencing homelessness, but they are not the most common root cause of people’s transition into homelessness in Oklahoma City.
“You don’t see people saying substance use or mental health were the main contributing factors. It’s things like, ‘I lost my job,’ ‘My spouse passed away’ or things like that,” Mueller said. “We know that individual circumstance alone does not result in homelessness; it’s always individual circumstance coupled with systemic failures and a lack of safety nets.”

According to an additional survey provided to unsheltered individuals, the primary causes for their transition into homelessness were personal relationships (20%), being unemployed (17%), and financial issues (12%).

Our Homelessness Program Associate, Jessie Valadez, volunteering in the 2023 Point in Time Count. 
Among the groups of people who were not included in the count are those experiencing couch homelessness, meaning they are temporarily staying with a friend, relative or acquaintance. Youth and families are frequently among those considered couch homeless. This makes it especially difficult to know the exact number who are homeless, but there are estimates.
According to the June 2024 issue of Curbside Chronicle, of the roughly 19,000 students enrolled at Putnam City Schools, 1,443 youth experienced homelessness. 1,300 of those students reported doubling up with friends or family, and 58 students reported staying in motels. In 2023, 2,710 kids enrolled in Oklahoma City Public School’s homeless education program.

This year’s PIT count included 171 unaccompanied and unsheltered youth, a 4% increase from last year’s count. Unaccompanied youth are 18 to 24-year-olds, including single people, couples, and groups who are not with a parent or legal guardian. It’s difficult to know how many are in this group because they often don’t want to be found. They are also often unaware that services exist or are fearful that they may be reported to their parents or legal guardian if they seek assistance.

Some service providers work specifically with homeless and unsheltered youth. Sisu Youth Services provides a low-barrier, identity-affirming space in Oklahoma City where unhoused transition-age youth find the shelter and support they need. Pivot also provides programs and services focusing on counseling, education, prevention, intervention, and most recently opened their Tiny Home community.
To help someone in need, visit the Homeless Alliance’s Get Help page to see a list of shelters and other community resources.

Banner Image Photo Credit: Nathan Poppe/Curbside Chronicle Editor-In-Chief