Matt Herbert offers a man a sleeping bag during the annual point in time count on Jan. 26, 2021. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

About 100 volunteers are needed for an annual count intended to serve as a snapshot of homelessness in the Marion and Polk County region on a single night.

There are volunteers needed on Jan. 25, 26 and 29. All volunteers must sign up in advance. 

Last year’s point in time count found there were 919 people experiencing homelessness in Salem on one night in January.

In Marion and Polk counties, there were 1,117 people, including those staying in shelters.

The count is required by the federal government to collect data. But it’s known to historically undercount the homeless population because of the difficulty locating people.

The count is a collaborative effort between the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Alliance, the region’s continuum of care, Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency and other homeless service nonprofits.

The ARCHES Project helps coordinate the annual count.

Robert Marshall, program manager at The ARCHES Project, said volunteers get to choose what part of Marion or Polk County they want to work in.

There are volunteer centers in Woodburn, Stayton and Salem. He said they’re working on finding one in Polk County too.

Volunteers who sign up will get a confirmation email letting them know which place they need to report to and what time. They also get a training video and instructions on downloading an app they’ll use while volunteering.

Weekday shifts are typically four hours, and the Saturday shift is five.

“Volunteers this year are given all that info ahead of time so not take up too much time on the day of the point in time count,” Marshall explained. “Our goal is that every volunteer has everything they need to know if before the day of the count.”

People will go out in pairs, typically a volunteer and an ARCHES outreach worker, Marshall said.

The goal of the count is to ask people experiencing homelessness questions about their experience. Volunteers ask questions like how long they’ve been homeless or whether their homelessness is tied to Covid.

They’re also given supplies to hand out, like socks and hand warmers.

Last year, there was a lack of volunteers for the count because of the pandemic, Marshall said.

He said homelessness is such a big problem that it requires the entire community to get involved.

 “Any humanitarian crisis requires the strength of many. I encourage anybody who has four hours to click on the link and get involved. It’s an opportunity for you to see what the homeless situation looks like in your community. It will allow you to see it through a whole different lens,” he said.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development requires communities to conduct a count every two years.

But Marshall said the region has a count each year, because “a lot can change in 12 months.”

He said the yearly data allows service organizations to see the progress they’ve made and what goals need to be set.

“For us, it’s about getting that data to cater programs to meet the needs of the people experiencing homelessness,” he said. 

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] 

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