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Communities await results of 'point in time' count of unhoused Montanans

A group of people gather in a rainy parking lot before conducting the point in time count in Billings on Jan. 27, 2023.
Kari Boiter
Volunteers in Billings prepare to conduct the point in time count on Jan. 27, 2023.

The latest number of unhoused people in Montana is expected out in the next few months.

It’s determined by what’s known as a “point in time” count: On a single night, volunteers speak with people in a community who are experiencing homelessness, checking in with including both sheltered and unsheltered populations.

The survey includes 27 questions. Catherine Card is a board member for the Yellowstone County Continuum of Care, which organizes the count.

“The survey is to gather information about unhoused people … and to look at the factors that may have contributed to that,” Card said, “and what some of the factors are that will slow someone from getting new housing or be housed somewhere.

“It’s really an important survey to get a check on how many people in this area are really unhoused.”

Two clipboards with questionnaires for the recent Point in Time count
Kari Boiter
Volunteers asked people experiencing homelessness 27 questions during the recent Point in Time count.

Volunteers, including Kevin Reed, spent the evening of Jan. 27 asking people at various locations in downtown Billing to voluntarily complete the survey. His group was assigned to the Community Crisis Center.

“Are you experiencing homelessness because you are currently fleeing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking?” Reed asked a man standing outside.

“Yes,” the man responded.

“How many times have you been on the streets homeless in the past three years, including today?”

“Um, that's a good question,” the man said. “I would say four times or more.”

Reed says homelessness is a growing problem in every city in the nation.

“The gentleman I just interviewed, he’s never had an apartment,” Reed said. “He gets a little tiny Social Security check every month and realistically it’s not enough to maintain a home.

“I mean, it doesn't seem to be getting any better.”

Continuums of Care assist people experiencing homelessness. They’re required to conduct the count and report results to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Data from the count helps cities develop strategies for ending homelessness and connect people with housing and vital services.

“What we’re doing gets a really good idea of how many people really are unhoused,” said Catherine Card with the Yellowstone County Continuum of Care. “And we don’t always have a good handle on that.”

In 2022, almost 1,600 people experienced homelessness in Montana, and 648 in Wyoming, according to HUD.

Orlinda Worthington hosts “Morning Edition” weekdays on YPR. She brings 20 years of experience as Montana television news anchor, producer, and reporter.