Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Volunteers gathered on Thursday evening to start the three-day Point-in-Time, or PIT, Count of the homeless population in Richland County.
Sixteen groups of four to five people were given maps of areas frequently populated by those in a condition of homelessness to record simple information about each participant. The count is conducted by the Midlands Area Consortium for the Homeless, commonly known as MACH, and is a way to help better the area using the data in the future.
"The point of the Point-in-Time Count isn't about the numbers, they could be up or down, it's more about us and what we can do with those numbers," said MACH Coordinator, Tom Bolton.
Once the groups gather the information, the data is entered into a system that's sent to the Office of Research and Statistics, who then releases a snapshot of the data to be used by social service agencies.
"Most of the agencies that assist folks that are homeless utilize that data in bringing funds into this community, especially federal funds, large foundation funds, to be able to say 'here are the numbers, here are exactly the need areas we need to address'," said Julie Ann Avin, who sits on MACH's Board of Directors.
The PIT Count is required to be performed every two years by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in order for the agencies to apply for funding, but the Midlands chooses to participate annually. In 2013, Richland County showed the highest increase within the state to a total of 1,518 counted, but Avin says they weren't alarmed.
"I think that we saw the increases where we anticipated in first-time homeless and in families with children as a result of the economy, but the fact that we reduced chronic homelessness would make me think it was really more of a balancing out because we had gotten better out counting."
The count will continue through Sunday afternoon. Throughout the weekend, volunteers will search libraries, churches and double-check the shelters to make sure the data is as accurate as possible.
Organizers hope the finalized statistics will be released by the summer.