Point-in-Time Counts

Point-in-Time Counts

A Point-in-Time (PiT) Count is a strategy to help determine the extent of homelessness in a community on a given night, or at a single point in time. Point-in-Time Counts allow a community to better understand the nature and extent of homelessness and the characteristics of the homeless population. Such counts support better planning, and when done on more than one occasion, allow communities to assess their progress in reducing homelessness. 

Conducting a PiT Count is an important part of any community response. It is not simply about enumerating homeless persons; it's about catalyzing change at the local and national levels to end homelessness.

A PiT Count is a snapshot; the success and accuracy of the numbers and information gathered are dependent upon the thoroughness of the methods and the participation of stakeholders. A Point-in-Time Count is just one data collection strategy, among many. Homelessness Information Management Systems, regular shelter bed counts, information from service providers and other research methodologies provide additional information.

While a comprehensive PiT Count offers important information about a community, the count cannot provide an exact number of people experiencing homelessness in a given community. For example, those who are provisionally accommodated or disconnected from homelessness-serving agencies are less likely to be counted. However, the limitations of this method should not prevent communities from undertaking a PiT Count, which will yield worthwhile data. 

A PiT Count should serve as critical part of a community’s response to homelessness. Conducting PiT Counts will enable communities to measure progress in reducing homelessness, particularly for those implementing Housing First. A count can provide a vital benchmark, especially in communities where systematic data on homelessness is sparse.

Counts can significantly increase a community’s ability to take action towards ending homelessness by:

  • Identifying the characteristics of the local population.
  • Increasing capacity to undertake a local needs assessment.
  • Enhancing system planning and program development.
  • Measuring progress towards ending homelessness.
  • Increasing public awareness about homelessness.
  • Enhancing the ability to test the efficacy of programs and interventions aimed at ending homelessness.

The benefits of PiT Counts extend beyond the community. For example, in the United States, regular nation-wide counts help communities and governments, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, measure progress. Communities are federally mandated to conduct PiT Counts of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons, biennially. These counts provide critical information for  local, regional and national homeless-serving systems.

As more Canadian communities build their capacity to conduct PiT Counts, our ability to end homelessness, across Canada, will improve. The HPS Coordinated Count is a step towards a larger movement. Over time, and as a collective, we can draw attention to the issue of homelessness with unprecedented information and clarity.

For communities that have yet to conduct a count, the process may seem daunting. However, experience has shown that whether a community is large or small, a successful first count is possible. The materials in this toolkit are meant to make the process easier.

Planning a count, carrying it out and analysing the results are all activities that can, and should, be conducted at the local level.  It is not necessary to hire outside researchers or consultants to implement a count. In fact, the count process may prove to be almost as meaningful as the results of the count itself. Bringing together a large number of service providers can help build capacity and expertise in your community.

There are many benefits to building local capacity to do this work. First, it engages different community members in a meaningful activity directed at reducing and ending homelessness. Second, the experience gained will contribute to refining and developing methods for future counts. Third, taking charge of the count helps builds local expertise in planning and evaluation.

Doing the first count is the hardest, but it can be done. Counts will become easier as local knowledge is developed year-to-year. 

Successful efforts to reduce and end homelessness require solid and consistent data at the local, regional and national levels.  A standard methodology, with local flexibility, ensures accuracy and comparability of data across communities. Over time, as more communities participate in successive counts, we will move towards a national PiT Count approach.

The HPS Coordinated Count: Building Alignment

Area of Alignment


For more information:

Defining the Core Populations

HPS requires, at a minimum, that participating communities enumerate absolute homelessness. This includes individuals that are unsheltered as well as those staying in emergency shelters or in transitional housing.

COH PiT Count Toolkit: Who to Count


The HPS Coordinated Count will take place in the first sixty days of 2016. 

COH PiT Count Toolkit: When to Count

Survey Design

Participating communities will include 10 Core Survey Questions in their PiT Count Surveys. Communities can add to the Core Questions as they see fit.  

COH PiT Count Toolkit: What to Ask

Data Analysis

HPS will provide participating communities with software to easily input and analyze PiT Count data. 

COH PiT Count Toolkit: Data Analysis

Cross-Community Collaboration

HPS is working with the COH to develop a web-based workspace for communities to network, share knowledge and increase collaboration across communities.

Stay tuned!

A common methodology will produce several benefits:

First, communities across Canada will have access to a reliable and tested methodology. Communities will not need to spend time and resources reinventing the wheel

Second, communities will be able to compare results, knowing that other communities have used similar methods and asked the same questions. Consistency within and between counts is critical to ensuring data reliability.

Third, we will have a national baseline count of homelessness. Combining results at the provincial and territorial levels will support the efforts of governments to plan and monitor progress on ending homelessness. This will give us powerful information on the prevalence of homelessness across Canadian communities, and in the long run enable comparisons of trends regionally and nationally.

Encouragingly, it is possible to coordinate PiT Counts across communities. In 2014, Alberta’s 7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness conducted coordinated PiT Counts with aligned methodologies. Now, they have the first-ever combined baseline of homelessness across the 7 cities. The HPS Coordinated Count provides a platform for other communities to do the same. In 2016, communities will have an increased capacity to conduct PiT Counts and as a result, we will benefit - across Canada - from a better understanding of homelessness.

Supporting Documents