Point-in-time count offers ‘snapshot’ of homelessness in Montgomery County

The count showed an uptick in people experiencing homelessness — although more people were in emergency shelters rather than outdoors compared to the year before.

beds at a homeless shelter

A shelter for people experiencing homelessness. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Montgomery County officials this week released point-in-time count numbers showing homelessness continues to rise in the county.

The year’s PIT count found that 435 people were experiencing homelessness on the Code Blue night of Jan. 23, up from 357 people in 2023. Of those 435 people, 334 were staying in emergency shelters, a 27% increase from the year before. Another 101 people were unsheltered, an 8% decrease from the 2023 count.

A Code Blue night is a designation issued by the county’s Office of Public Health when the temperature has a wind-chill factor of 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below. During Code Blue, the county offers expanded emergency housing options at night.

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The overall increase in people experiencing homelessness is “100% … [due to] increased housing prices and the lack of housing affordability options in Montgomery County,”  said Kayleigh Silver, administrator for the Montgomery County Office of Housing and Community Development, which coordinated the count with Montgomery County PA-504 Continuum of Care through the public-private partnership Your Way Home.

Silver noted rents have increased by 15% and home prices by 25% countywide since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The PIT count is just “one data point” that county officials, outreach workers and nonprofits use to understand homelessness in the region, Silver said. It offers a “snapshot,” of the number of people spending the night in emergency shelters or outdoors and unsheltered on a given night in January.

Silver said the decrease in people who were unsheltered, along with the increase in those who were in emergency shelters that night, reflects the county’s efforts over the past year to expand emergency shelter capacities during Code Blue nights. The county has added at least two Code Blue shelter facilities since 2023.

“There is a marked increase in the total number of people that are living outside all the time,” said Mark Boorse, director of program development at Access Services, the nonprofit that worked with the county’s street outreach team to conduct the count. “So the PIT count has gone up. But what we see in the other data points … we see that increase daily, so we are very clear on the fact that this is a significant increase over the past three or four years.”

Along with rising rents and home prices, Boorse cited the 2022 closure of the Coordinated Homeless Outreach Center (CHOC) in Norristown, the county’s only 24/7 shelter, and the damage to affordable housing wrought by the remnants of Hurricane Ida in 2021 as key factors contributing to the rise of homelessness and people living unsheltered throughout the county.

Boorse said those living unsheltered outdoors are also often forced to move and face an increasingly constricted amount of space where they can pitch a tent or sleep for the night. A looming federal court case on the rights of people to sleep outside when there are no shelter beds available could exacerbate that, he said.

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Silver noted that the county has launched an initiative with partner organizations and other stakeholders called Homes for All to address the “root cause of the housing affordability crisis.”

“We are working with our planning commission here at the county, our Commerce Department, as well again, as building up the partnership structure of all the partners needed at the table in order to address the housing affordability crisis, which is at the root of the homelessness crisis,” Silver said.

Both Boorse and Silver said they are already working with outreach workers and partner organizations to prepare for emergency shelter needs ahead of extreme summer heat.

The county’s Code Red designation goes into effect when there’s a heat index of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Silver said they are looking to develop a support plan for extremely hot days through the Your Way Home partnership that helped respond to people’s emergency shelter needs during Code Blue.

Boorse said that during a Code Red, outreach team members make sure to let people know what’s in the forecast and help them create a safety plan for their needs. Team members will drop gear — water, tarps for shade, towels — to those in need, or work with individuals to find informal spaces, such as libraries or YMCAs, where they can get inside, get cool and spend some time in air conditioning during the day.

County officials urge anyone experiencing homelessness in Montgomery County to call 610-278-3522 to get information about resources and support.

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