KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — Wednesday night, volunteers across the Tri-Cities hit the streets with surveys in hand as part of the federally-mandated Point-in-Time count.

For one night in January, dusk to dusk, volunteers and social service providers visit shelters, homeless camps, and cities to try and get a count of their homeless population. Local officials told News Channel 11 though the data is useful, it doesn’t convey a full picture of the region’s homelessness.

Erin Gray, a social worker with the Kingsport Police Department, said because the survey is conducted on one day, using a federal definition on homelessness, the data collected doesn’t account for some factors.

“We can’t predict weather. We can’t predict, though those outside factors do affect where people stay in the night,” Gray said.

Gray says she uses a more expansive definition of “homelessness.”

“Having that thought of ‘where my next stop is going to be that night?” is a form of homelessness, Gray said. “So thinking throughout the day, who’s my friends that will let me sleep on their couch? That to me is a homeless situation.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, which mandates the count, defines homelessness as an, “individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate
nighttime residence.”

Gray says she’s increasingly seeing families facing housing difficulties that won’t be captured by HUD’s categories.

Jonathan Anderson, Gray’s partner at United Way, agrees.

“We haven’t seen a great increase in our PIT count over the past few years, we are seeing a rise in families being homeless simply because maybe a rental is being sold, the rents are increasing,” said Anderson.

Both Anderson and Gray say they’re seeing more families struggle with housing. But they often stay in motels or with relatives, something that’s not counted in the PIT.

Anderson said the Americourt Motel in Kingsport is home to many individuals who live there for extended periods of time.

Despite its shortcomings, the annual count helps them achieve their end goal — getting people the resources they need, whether it’s addiction services, help with employment or affordable housing.

“Ultimately, what we want to do is reduce barriers so that we are seeing more folks move into permanent solutions,” said Anderson.

Anderson and Gray said the PIT count is helpful for identifying individuals who haven’t been receiving services.

Officials counted 405 in Washington, Unicoi, Carter, Greene, Johnson, Hawkins and Hancock counties in 2019. In 2022, they counted 392.

Data from this year’s count will likely be released in late spring.