Counting homeless people

MARQUETTE — In an effort to establish state and federal funding for programs and organizations in their effort to end homelessness, local counties are participating in the nationwide point-in-time count.

Every January, more than 400 Continuum of Care groups across the U.S. organize thousands of volunteers in a national effort to measure the scale of homelessness in the country, according to a Community Action Alger-Marquette press release.

The Continuum of Care program is focused on promoting a community-wide commitment to end homelessness by providing funding to nonprofit providers and programs that homeless individuals or families can utilize in order to become self-sufficient and attain housing.

“The PIT count is one of the factors used in determining funding for housing programs,” said Doug Russell, Room at the Inn director, in an email. “While the funding does not affect Room at the Inn directly (we receive no government funding), it does affect the number of housing vouchers provided in our service area, and those vouchers are an important resource that help many of our guests move into an apartment.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, requires an annual point-in-time count of homeless persons be conducted on a single night in January, according to HUD’s website. The count for Marquette, Alger and Schoolcraft counties will take place Jan. 31.

“The count is a cooperation with area and law enforcement and human service agencies that work with homeless populations,” said Amy Lerlie, executive director of Community Action Alger-Marquette. “We reach out to the sheriff’s department, the Janzen House, Room at the Inn, Lutheran Social Services … basically any of the human services or entities that are able to identify homelessness.”

More than 40 contacts are expected to be involved, according to CAAM.

CAAM is seeking volunteers to help assist with the point-in-time count. CAAM Housing Resource Manager Jason Parks said volunteers will canvas local and public areas where the homeless population is known to seek shelter during the day.

“There will be a short training required. Volunteers will be taking short shifts to canvas places/areas that are frequented by people and families who are homeless, and will be conducting short questionnaires with those folks,” he said in an email. “The volunteers, in addition to trying to connect people with area housing resources, will be providing a backpack with some food, toiletries, and other necessities.”

According to Parks, after the point-in-count numbers are figured, the numbers are reported to congress and play a role in determining the future funding allocations for homeless programming.

“There are forms where they’ll collect information on these folks and the contact team follows up to gather the forms and then those are sent to Community Action of Alger-Marquette, where we will then enter that information into the Homeless Management Information System database, where the final count is generated from,” Parks said. “There are a few agencies that provide emergency shelter to people experiencing homelessness AND are already entering data into the HMIS database — Room at the Inn, the Janzen House, and CAAM. For those residents, our task is to make sure that our records are up-to-date and cleaned up.”

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact CAAM by calling 906-228-6522 or Sandy Heikkenen at 906-236-4999.

Jaymie Depew can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is