During these last days of January, municipalities are required to count the homeless population and report the numbers to the federal Housing and Urban Development Department.
The annual count is made up of two numbers: Those in shelters, and those on the streets.
That shelter number is pretty easy to get — not so for those who stay outdoors.
Laura Weinberg is a spokeswoman for Project H.O.M.E. in Philadelphia, the group that will hit the streets to get that more-difficult number.
“Typically we’ll go out in pairs and just kind of blanket the city,” she says. “There’s a map and a geography that each team is assigned to.”
The easiest way to tell if is someone is homeless, she says, is if they’re sleeping in a place not fit for human habitation. So the best time to do the count? The middle of the night.
“We probably expect a few hundred on the street in Center City, and by street I mean also some indoor places, train stations things like that, where people tend to congregate,” she says.
The cold weather actually helps: More homeless people are likely to seek warmth in a shelter, and are therefore easier to count.
Scott Griffith of the Bucks County Housing Coalition says even in extreme cold weather, some homeless people just don’t want to go to a shelter.
“It’s frustrating,” he says. “Some of the people just won’t to accept the outreach efforts.”
Homeless population numbers dictate where federal funding goes.
Last year Philadelphia had about 6,000 homeless people.