What is a PiT Count?

A PiT Count provides an estimate of homelessness in a community within a specified time period, generally 24 hours. A PiT Count is not intended to be a comprehensive research study, nor is it designed to provide the absolute number of individuals experiencing homelessness in a community. Instead, it offers a snapshot of homelessness and when conducted consistently, allows communities to measure their progress in reducing homelessness.

PiT Count Methods vary across communities. Until 2015 – when the Government of Canada’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy introduced a coordinated PiT Count methodology – a standard PiT Count methodology did not exist in Canada. Nonetheless, most PiT Counts share common elements.

The Basic Tenets of a PiT Count

Most simply, to conduct a PiT Count you must locate and survey as many individuals experiencing homelessness as possible, in a given time period – usually not more than 24 hours. The Canadian Definition of Homelessness identifies four categories of homelessness: unsheltered, emergency sheltered, provisionally accommodated and at risk of homelessnes. As it is difficult to locate all individuals experiencing homelessness, a traditional PiT Count seeks to enumerate the two most visible forms of homelessness: unsheltered and emergency sheltered homelessness.

1. The Unsheltered Count

  • The unsheltered count, designed to locate and survey individuals staying on the street or in public places unfit for human habitation, is typically administered by a group of volunteers. Over a few hours, volunteers systematically walk through a community and administer a set of screening questions to every person they encounter. If individuals indicate they are without housing, volunteers ask a set of follow-up questions – known as the PiT Count Survey—to better understand the person’s experience of homelessness. Participation in the Survey is voluntary, and volunteers keep a tally of the number of people encountered. 

2. The Sheltered Count

  • The sheltered count is designed to enumerate the number of individuals staying in emergency shelters on the night of the count. At a minimum, shelters provide the number of individuals that stayed in their facility on the night of the count. Often, individuals staying in the shelter also have the option to complete a PiT Count Survey.

The unsheltered and sheltered counts provide two types of information: first, the number of people experiencing unsheltered and emergency sheltered homelessness on a given night; and second, survey data on the demographics and experiences of those experiencing homelessness. It is important to note that not all individuals that are counted as homeless will complete a PiT Count Survey. Thus, the number of individuals counted as homeless and the number of PiT Count Surveys completed will differ. The PiT Count is designed to capture both types of information.