The annual point-in-time homeless count looks different this year in Longview as volunteers are being forced to pass out survey packets to local shelters because of COVID-19 precautions.

“Normally, we send people out into the shelters,” Chesley Knowles, North East Texas Homeless Consortium representative, said Thursday as the count started. “For the past two or three years, we’ve partnered with (the city of Longview’s) Homeless Resource Day, but none of that is happening this year.”

Texas Homeless Network conducts the yearly survey over a 24-hour period to gauge homelessness across the state. It not only collects data about the number of community members experiencing homelessness but also notes characteristics of the people and their circumstances.

In January 2020, the homeless count found that 27,229 people in the state were experiencing homelessness on a single night, with 51% sheltered and 49% unsheltered.

For 2021, those numbers likely will look different because of the pandemic, Knowles said.

Individual shelters such as Hiway 80 Rescue Mission and House of Hope will do the count internally, and people will fill out surveys. And because of COVID-19 concerns, only people in shelters will be counted this year and not the unsheltered.

That means the count will only show a fraction of the homeless population in Longview.

“I would say 60% to maybe 75% will be counted because it’s cold out, so more will be in the shelters,” said Sabrina Fields with the city of Longview. “But the shelters are also turning people away too because of COVID.”

Other forms of homelessness, such as “couchsurfing” with friends and people staying in hotels and motels, are not counted, Fields said.

The count is intended to improve the state and the city’s understanding of the needs and circumstances of people experiencing homelessness. The survey provides data including gender, age, ethnicity and veteran status.

“They ask all those questions, like what caused homelessness,” Fields said.

The results also show what groups are affected — such as veterans needing homes, women with children and people dealing with mental health — so programs can better provide assistance, Knowles said.

“This is how they get funding in East Texas for programs,” Fields said. “That’s why I’m saying this year’s going to be totally different because of COVID-19, but the funding is definitely needed in this area because right now, there’s more homeless people and a lack of resources.”

Results from the count will be publicly available, though they may not be released for several months, Knowles said.

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Courtney Stern is a public safety reporter covering a wide range of topics. She grew up in Baltimore and later earned a journalism degree from the University of Miami. Stern moved to East Texas from Iowa with her husband and two dogs, Pebbles and Bam Bam.