Anchorage unsheltered population counted

Annual point-in-time count determines funding for homeless programs in Anchorage
Anchorage counts the number of unsheltered people as mandated by the government.
Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 7:42 PM AKST|Updated: Jan. 31, 2023 at 10:23 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Each year the federal government requires cities to estimate the number of unsheltered people living within their communities.

It’s called the point-in-time count and must be done during the last week of January, in order for those cities to receive federal funding for homeless-related programs.

In Alaska, workers and volunteers try to gather as much information as possible to see how many people are still unsheltered during the middle of winter, but finding them isn’t always easy.

Jan. 31 is the day Anchorage chose to conduct the point-in-time count. Workers with the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness collaborate with other city-funded organizations and volunteers to conduct the count. The goal is to count each unsheltered individual and gather as much demographic information as possible. However, some who are approached would rather not participate in the program.

“If they don’t want to answer the questions what we do is called an observational count. We make note of what we can see and observe,” ACEH Executive Director Meg Zaletel said. “They do count towards the overall total but it’s not complete data.”

Outreach teams with ACEH do their best to get an accurate count, equipped with warm containers of burrito dinners provided by the United Way. On Monday night, volunteers also put together bags of toothbrushes, food and other items for workers to hand out to those who wanted them.

However, locating the unsheltered throughout the city of Anchorage can be difficult. One team trudged through snow that led them to some campers in a wooded area of Mountain View.

“I got a meal for you if you’d like a meal,” an outreach worker said.

A man called Scott emerged from the tent made of tarps to accept the food and talk with the outreach workers.

“How many folks are on this side, Scott?” asked the outreach worker.

“Six to eight,” Scott said.

“The fog’s been in here,” said the worker.

“Yeah, ran out of heat,” Scott replied.

Scott said he was born and raised in Alaska and has been living in the tent for the past six months, but said he’s been homeless for about a year. It’s not the way of life he would have chosen.

“It sucks, it’s hard,” Scott said.

Scott didn’t want to discuss what lead to his displacement, only saying he now works day jobs to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, outreach workers are fighting to meet a deadline, counting those who often seem discounted.

“We go like Downtown, we’ll go like through as a grid and we will look for people and encounter people and we have a short questionnaire for them,” Zaletel said. “We will walk the trail system and look for evidence of camps, we will go back to where we know people have camped and we will just go and look for folks all the way from Eagle River, you know, down to South Anchorage.”

Along the way, they are sure to find many more people out there just like Scott.

“Just pray and just hope for the next day, you know,” Scott said tearfully. “It’s all you can do is try to get by, you know, it’s hard.”

The point in time count is not perfect, not everyone gets counted. Social service agencies will also count the number of unsheltered people living in temporary housing and the numbers will all be added up later this year and submitted to the federal government to determine the amount of funding appropriated.