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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A census will be conducted in Oklahoma City on Thursday to count the number of homeless residents in the city.

The purpose of the census, called the Point in Time County, is to provide another data point in the city’s ongoing effort to better understand the homelessness issue.

The upcoming count of homeless community members will be the first like it since the COVID-19 pandemic, according to city officials.

Communities that receive Department of Housing and Urban Development funding must conduct the survey at least once every two years. Oklahoma City typically conducts the survey each year.

The count was canceled for the first time last year because of the pandemic.

Local service agencies use census data to identify trends, plan services and housing programs to elevate people out of homelessness. Experts, however, say census findings should not be the exclusive measuring tool when analyzing homelessness, according to city officials.

“This is a particularly difficult population to count accurately,” said Jerod Shadid, program planner for the City of Oklahoma City’s Homeless Services. “Things like the weather on the day of the count and improved counting strategies can cause the numbers to fluctuate. That’s why the result from one year to the next may not tell you much, but conducting the survey every year and looking at trends over time helps us identify where we need to focus our resources.”

Image of homeless camp
Tents belonging to homeless community members in Oklahoma City.

The survey does not count people who are temporarily homeless and staying with a friend, relative or acquaintance.

The Point in Time Count conducted in 2020 found 1,573 homeless people in Oklahoma City on the day of the count, an increase of 300 homeless community members since the 2019 count.

“Increased street outreach efforts leading up to the count could have played a role in finding more people in January of 2020,” said Dan Straughan, executive director of the Homeless Alliance. “This year we actually do expect numbers to go up. The question is – by how much?” 

The Homeless Management Information System tracks utilization of homeless services in Oklahoma City throughout the year. Approximately 11,300 homeless people were active in the system in 2018, 10,200 people in 2019, 10,000 people in 2020 and 11,900 people in 2021, according to city officials.

Service providers say if the homeless population has increased it is partially because of the lack of availability of affordable housing.

“Oklahoma City has experienced population growth and the number of affordable housing units and wages have not kept pace,” said Straughan.

The results of the homeless census will be released sometime later this year. A specific timeline was not given.