Point in Time Count 2022: Wed, Jan 26 - Thurs, Jan 27
This week, the entire state of New Hampshire will conduct a 24-hour survey of people who live in conditions that the federal government considers to define homelessness. This is implemented on a national level, too. For the third year, Carroll County is coordinating comprehensive participation in this survey, spear-headed by Tri-County Cap, White Horse Recovery, and the Way Station. We are serving as a base of operations in the Conway area for volunteers helping to conduct the survey.
Homeless residents include people living outdoors, sleeping in cars or other vehicles, couch-surfing and doubling or tripling up in friend’s homes, or living in motels and hotels with financial assistance. The Point in Time survey is anonymous and brief. People aren’t required to provide names or identifying information; the questions are non-invasive. Participation is voluntary. For those who participate in the Point in Time (PIT) survey in our area, the Way Station is offering gift cards to local coffee shops.
Prior to 2020, Carroll County had not engaged in a comprehensive attempt to participate in this annual Point in Time survey. Individual towns, such as Conway, NH represented by BJ Parker, have collected available data. Schools, domestic violence and recovery shelters, hospitals/medical practices, and jails track this data through different mechanisms and report it to different state and federal entities.
This year, Tri County Cap is coordinating the Point in Time survey across Coos and Carroll counties. Homeless outreach agent Kim White-Feather is overseeing this initiative in Carroll County, and partnering with the Way Station in Conway as a one of the hubs for volunteers and homeless survey participants.
Throughout the county, town staff members are participating, and several medical, social service and nonprofit organizations are also engaging in the survey. Clergy and other care providers are also participating or volunteering. The Way Station is serving as headquarters for this survey in the Conway area. White Horse Addiction Center is serving as a hub in Ossipee.
This Point in Time survey requires the cooperative effort of many nonprofits and agencies, plus the legwork of many volunteers, to meet people in different locations and include them in the survey.
In recent years, American mayors have reported that homelessness has overtaken the opioid epidemic as the top issue plaguing cities. It is also a significant issue in rural areas. Homelessness, which was declining through 2010, has begun to rise again over the past several years. Its increase is directly tied to the affordable housing crisis.
Meanwhile, one way that Carroll County may address this issue in our own region is through active participation in this statewide survey. We will then report more accurate numbers of homeless and at-risk residents in the Mt Washington Valley. For instance, since the Way Station opened last June, our volunteers have worked with over 90 guests who qualify as homeless. Yet we are only serving a portion of the total population in our area that falls into this category. And this is one of the only ‘counts’ of local homeless and at-risk residents that has been available, since the Way Station is the first organization focused specifically on serving the homeless and housing-insecure population in Mt Washington Valley.
During the recent Northern Carroll County Care Providers meeting, it was stated that New Hampshire reported only 45 homeless children statewide in past years. Yet more than two dozen children meet the federal guidelines for homelessness within the SAU9 school district. Clearly, the numbers of homeless residents in our area are grossly under-reported.
Although the Point in Time survey’s 24-hour ‘snapshot’ of the homeless population won’t capture every resident who might be characterized as homeless, this first-ever comprehensive participation at a county-wide level can improve the quality of information available we provide to the state. More accurate data will change the funding and resources that may then be allocated to our region by the state and federal government. It will also grow public awareness of the scale of the problem.
The Way Station will also serve as a base of operations for volunteers that day. Volunteers and nonprofit staff members are going out to other sites around the North Carroll County to meet residents willing to be counted in the Point in Time survey. Volunteers will carry kits with toiletries, hand warmers and other essentials to be shared with homeless and at-risk residents. The Way Station is also offering Dunkin Donuts cards to people who participate in the survey.
Founded in 2019, the The Way Station serves as a day resource center for local homeless, housing-insecure and at-risk residents. Although we are not a shelter, we provide many of the basic services outlined above such as offering showers, laundry, postal address, emotional support and referrals. The Way Station has been open for over six months. The Way Station is open for limited hours each week on Mondays and Thursdays, but answers our phone every day and arranges emergency access when needed. Often due to COVID, we coordinate support for our guests with wellness phone calls, then offer curbside pickup of essential supplies, showers and consults with staff and volunteers by appointment, and organize delivery of food and other essentials to those without transportation.
The ages of the Way Station’s guests range from families with infants and toddlers to young adults and seniors. Some people are simply on the wrong side of the poverty cycle, knocked down by getting sick and losing a job; then all the facets of stability fall apart, like dominoes falling when the first problem occurs. Some are now living sober and working, recovering from addiction and associated issues. A few have been diagnosed with mental health conditions that challenge their ability to live, work, and succeed in traditional settings. Other guests have temporary shelter, but need our additional services such as laundry and use of the post office box for mail delivery, so they can obtain drivers licenses, car registrations, and other documentation that allows them to apply for jobs and classes and other constructive resources.
The Way Station continues to give out tents, sleeping bags, and camping gear. Some people camp outdoors or sleep in their cars through the winter, although this becomes life-threatening during freezing nights and snowstorms. Others seek affordable long-term rental housing, which is almost nonexistent in the Mt Washington Valley. In the short-term, people may stay with friends if they can find an empty bed, couch or floor to use. Others live in local hotels and motels when they have sufficient funds or qualify for supportive programs.