2019 PIT Survey Protocol

This post and the link to the PDF file of the 2019 PIT Survey Protocol herein contain the 2019 Point-in-Time Survey Protocol as established by the Montana Continuum of Care Coalition.  Any questions that aren’t answered in the PIT Survey Protocol may be directed to Greg Owens via mtcoc.coalition@gmail.com or call/text (406) 595-3888.


INTRODUCTION – The Montana Point-in-Time (PIT) Survey and the Housing Inventory (HI) are part of a nationally coordinated and simultaneous effort to identify the number of persons homeless and the number of beds dedicated to homeless persons on a single night during the last week in January.

The MT Continuum of Care Coalition (MT CoC) is required to submit the PIT and HI data into a national database.  The quality of the data is reviewed by HUD and this becomes one of the scored elements in a CoC’s application for competitive grant funds.  At least $2.5 million in grants to 18 Montana projects depend on the MT CoC successfully implementing the HI and PIT and submitting quality data.

It is important that all survey efforts follow this protocol in order to provide reliable and consistent data across the nation as well as over time in Montana.  This protocol reflects and summarizes HUD requirements contained in HUD Notice CPD-18-08: 2019 HIC and PIT Data Collection for CoC and ESG Programs and the HUD Point-in-Time Methodology Guide.

The 2019 PIT and HI will occur on the evening of Thursday, January 31st.  The “point-in-time” is defined as sunset beginning on the 31st and ending at sunrise on February 1st.  There is one exception allowed for “Service-Site Counts,” which is addressed below under the Unsheltered Count section.    


To conduct a successful homeless survey, it is first necessary to inventory all of the beds that are dedicated to and used by homeless persons.  A project with a dedicated bed is one where:

  1. the primary intent of the project is to serve homeless persons,
  2. the project verifies homeless status as part of its client intake or eligibility determination, and
  3. the actual project clients are predominantly homeless (or, for permanent housing, were homeless at entry).

In Montana, these beds fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Emergency Shelters (ES) and Domestic Violence Shelters (DVS),
  2. Transitional Housing (TH) facilities,
  3. Motel vouchers provided by a church, Salvation Army, HRDC or others,
  4. Permanent Supportive Housing provided by HUD-CoC PSH vouchers or Veterans Administration VASH vouchers,
  5. Rapid Rehousing (RRH), including CoC and Emergency Solutions Grant programs.

The MT CoC maintains the Housing Inventory and has distributes, for review and updating, the 2018 Inventory to PIT contacts at individual facilities for sheltered surveys, and to local PIT coordinators for unsheltered and service site surveys (see below.)  It is important that a local review identify any new or missing facilities or programs that the MT CoC should add to the 2019 Inventory.  To request the list or for any additional information on the Inventory, call or text Greg Owens at (406) 595-3888 or email at mtcoc.coalition@gmail.com .


There are two components of the survey effort:

  1. Unsheltered count – Includes the service sites count which is only meant to count unsheltered homeless missed on the night of the count.
  2. Sheltered count.

In most cases, the Unsheltered or “street count” is overseen and implemented by local PIT Coordinators.  The Sheltered count is overseen and implemented by the MT CoC Coalition, in conjunction with designated PIT contacts at individual facilities.

Follow the Protocol:  It is essential that all survey efforts closely follow this protocol to ensure that uniform and consistent data is collected. 

Homeless Definitions:  The Montana PIT Survey is required to collect and report data using the HUD definition of homeless, i.e. persons sleeping in a place not meant for habitation or persons living in emergency shelters and transitional housing projects.  Definitions used by some federal agencies include persons who are doubled-up or couch surfing; HUD’s definition does not include these persons.  The HUD homeless definition also excludes persons in jails, correctional facilities, foster care, hospital beds or treatment or detox centers.

The Montana survey is designed so that volunteers and interviewers do not need to screen for various definitions of homelessness.  A single survey questionnaire is used in all situations and a data management system allows data to be screened and retrieved according to the user’s needs.  In short, the guidance to all volunteers is this:  Survey anyone suspected of being homeless or anyone who thinks they are homeless.

Confidentiality Agreement – It is necessary that anyone handling completed surveys sign a Confidentiality Agreement to safeguard the personal information of persons answering the survey.  The Agreement states that the volunteer agrees to: 1) keep all information confidential, 2) protect all surveys by keeping them from public view and 3) never knowingly enter inaccurate information.  All volunteers should sign a Confidentiality Agreement prior to receiving surveys and the local coordinator can either keep them on file for a suggested period of three months in their own office or send the forms along with the surveys to the MT CoC Coalition.

PIT Survey is Voluntary:  For a variety of reasons, not all homeless persons will agree to participate or answer all of the questions and their decision should be respected.  It is very important to let the homeless person know at the very outset that any information they provide is voluntary, anonymous and confidential, that they simply say “pass” if they choose not to answer a question, and that passing on any question will in no way result in refusal of any services.  

Households:  Consistent with the national protocol, the survey collects data that allows reporting out by by three household types: 1) with children, 2) without children, 3) only children.  Within those households other subpopulations, including veterans, chronically homeless, unaccompanied children and youth households (where head of household is 18-24 years of age), are also reported.  The Homeless Survey has been designed to capture all of this data.  (See the 2019 HUD PIT Data Collection Notice for more details about household types and subpopulations.)

HUD defines a household as a group of persons that “present for services together,” whether they are related or not.  Since this can be vague, our guidance is to start with the simple concept of a family or “group of persons who are living together and sleeping together” on the night of the survey.  Married or “partnered” couples are a single household, but adults who are merely traveling together are not and should be surveyed individually.  If there is any doubt, we will trust the judgment of the interviewers.

Survey only one per household and, to prevent duplication, try to survey the head of the household and to use that person’s identifier information (first name, last initial, day of birth).  The head of the household would typically be a parent or the person most responsible for caring for the family, such as the oldest person. In situations that don’t fit any of these, surveyors are encouraged to use their best judgment. 

National Priority:  It’s important that local survey organizers involve youth in the planning to identify where homeless youth will most likely be found on the night of the survey as well as finding interviewers who will have both the access and trust needed to conduct the surveys. 

While surveys cannot be conducted in schools or on school property, coordinators are strongly encouraged to contact school district Homeless Education Liaisons to explore the possibility of conducting focus groups with homeless youth in order to discuss how best to conduct outreach to homeless youth and interview them.  Homeless liaisons can also be useful in recruiting volunteers that homeless youth might recognize and trust

Montana Office of Public Instruction Homeless Education Liaison list.

Furthermore, the state Homeless Education Coordinator has encouraged all school liaisons to:

  1. Share aggregate data about the number of homeless children and youth in your district.
  2. Encourage families to participate in local events where they will be counted. (Find out where your local PIT count event will be held.)
  1. Give your local PIT count people information about places where homeless youths and families tend to “hang out” during inclement weather.
  2. Encourage staff to volunteer with the count. Families and students may be more open to working with people they already know and trust.

Coordinators are also encouraged to contact the LGBT community, e.g. a high school LGBT club or local PRIDE organization to ensure the most successful outreach to this critical homeless subpopulation.

Who Should Conduct a Survey? – Surveys can be completed by; 1) an interviewer, 2) the homeless person him or herself, or 3) a case manager.

Interviewer:  Homeless surveys are most successful when administered by a volunteer who will be accepted and trusted by the homeless person.  Experience also shows that the best interviewers are formerly or currently homeless persons themselves or outreach workers who might be recognized by the homeless in your community.   This is especially true when conducting street counts and particularly important with youth and veterans.

Less experienced volunteers can still be effective interviewers in sheltered sites IF provided some orientation and training.

It’s highly recommended, therefore, if not urged, that coordinators recruit appropriate volunteers to conduct survey interviews.

Self:  When it is not feasible to provide interviewers, the next best thing is to ask a person to fill out the survey him or herself.  Even in these situations, however, every effort should be made to have a coordinator or volunteer close at hand to lend assistance, answer questions, immediately collect the completed survey and to keep track of the number of persons declining to be surveyed. 

Case Manager:  Another acceptable method is for a case manager to complete a survey on behalf of a client, but this should only be done when the case manager knows their client will not or cannot participate in the survey.

Surveys cannot be completed by friends or someone who is not an immediate family member on behalf of others. 


How:  “Unsheltered” homeless are typically surveyed by “canvassing” areas where homeless are known to congregate, such as certain streets, neighborhoods, abandoned buildings, campgrounds or under bridges.  Developing a list of these locations is the first step followed by recruiting, training and scheduling volunteers.

Where:  Those who best know where to find the unsheltered homeless are current and formerly homeless, (especially youth and veterans), as well as law enforcement, outreach workers, homeless shelter and soup kitchen staff.  It is critical that they be consulted when identifying sites to be canvassed.  Some general locations that need to be considered include campgrounds, parks, certain streets or neighborhoods, abandoned buildings, under bridges, railroad tracks, certain motels, libraries, etc.

Who:  Because “street canvassing” is done in the evening in areas that can be potentially unsafe, “who” does the surveying is important.  Again, the most effective volunteers are current and formerly homeless persons themselves.  PATH outreach workers and case managers or volunteers from emergency shelters are also preferred.  It is strongly recommended that canvassers go out in teams of at least two. 

When:   The time for conducting the street canvass or outside survey is after shelters close their doors and the homeless have taken refuge for the night on January 31st.  The survey ends at sunrise on February 1st.   This does not preclude coordinating surveys with such activities as a sponsored dinner (typically at an emergency shelter) for all homeless on the evening of the survey.  No surveys should be conducted before Thursday, January 31st.


Why and how:  HUD recognizes that some unsheltered homeless can be missed on a single evening, especially in a rural state as vast as Montana.  HUD therefore allows service-site counts to continue for another seven days.   It is important to note, however, that only people who were homeless on the night of January 31st will be counted (the survey screens by asking where did you sleep on the night of the survey).

Where:  Experience suggests that many of the homeless who might have been missed on this night are likely to go somewhere during the following week to receive assistance or to contact a social service case manager. It is important that each community planning effort identify and contact these service sites in their area and arrange for surveys to be administered.  Just a few of the general types of sites include food banks, HRDC offices, Salvation Army locations, healthcare for homeless clinics, thrift shops, churches, mental health centers, job service offices, public assistance offices, hospitals, etc.

Project Homeless Connect events occurring immediately or soon after the survey date are also considered to be part of the service-site effort.

Who:  While most surveys at service sites are completed by homeless persons themselves, it is important to identify someone at each service-site who will be responsible for administering the survey, who understands the protocol, who will be present to lend assistance or answer questions and who will ensure that the surveys are collected and sent in.

When:  Service-based locations do not begin surveying until after the sheltered and unsheltered surveys have finished on February 1st. and they must end on February 7th.

SHELTERED SITE SURVEYS – In most cases the MT CoC Coalition is responsible for overseeing and implementing the Shelter Count in conjunction with Facility-based PIT coordinators.  In a couple of instances, Local PIT Coordinators manage the sheltered count as well as the unsheltered and service sites surveys. 

Where: Every Emergency Shelter (ES), Domestic Violence Shelter (DVS), Transitional Housing (TH) site or program providing motel vouchers identified in the Housing Inventory must be included in the survey.  Note: While CoC and ESG Rapid Rehousing and Permanent Supportive Housing sites are included in the Housing Inventory, they are not a part of the PIT Survey because they are defined as permanent housing.

How:  The MT CoC will work with each facility to identify a Facility-based, on-site PIT coordinator or contact, review the protocol, recruitment of interviewers/volunteers, and training plans, distribute surveys directly to them and ensure that collection arrangements are made and mutually understood. 

On-site coordinators will be asked to verify the following: 

  1. the number of beds in their inventory dedicated to homeless on the night of the survey
  2. the number of surveys completed for the survey
  3. the number of persons covered in the surveys

It’s critical that the front page Facility information for every survey conducted at a shelter site be filled-in.  Failure to do so results in that homeless person not being counted as staying in that facility and, therefore, the facility being underutilized.  Facility site coordinators should check all surveys from their facility and fill this in if necessary (or better yet, pre-fill this in before surveying begins).  Coordinators need to be sure that the exact facility name as listed in the inventory is used here.  This box must also be filled by any organization providing a motel voucher. 

Who:  Use interviewers, e.g. shelter staff or volunteers, especially current or formerly homeless, whenever possible.  It is also acceptable to ask residents to fill out the survey on their own, but this is best done in the presence of someone who can answer questions and be sure all surveys are collected.

When:  Sheltered surveys should be conducted either in the evening of the 31st after check-in is complete or early the next morning but BEFORE ANYONE LEAVES.  The sheltered survey effort concludes on the morning of February 1st.  No surveys should be conducted before Thursday, January 31st.

HOTLINE – A hotline will be available for any questions on the evening of January 31st.  The hotline number is:  (406) 920-0468.

DEADLINE, COLLECTION AND MAILING OF SURVEYS – All surveys should be collected and sent to the following address by close of business on February 7th to:

MT CoC Coalition / 321 E. Main, Suite 316 / Bozeman, MT  59715

For questions or help, contact Greg Owens at MT CoC via mtcoc.coalition@gmail.com or call/text (406) 595-3888.

FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM DPHHS – The Montana Department of Health and Human Services supports achieving the most comprehensive survey possible by making mini-grants available to each local Continuum of Care district.  Due to budget constraints, the maximum eligible amount in 2019 is capped at the amount the community received in 2018.  To be eligible for the grants, however, the local coordinating agency must have participated in a Coordinator Training provided by the MT CoC.  The funds can be used for such things as staff cost to recruit, organize and coordinate volunteers, incentives to survey participants, such as goody bags, volunteer stipends, expense or mileage reimbursements, feeding volunteers or using mobile applications.  Use of the funds must be agreed upon by a local continuum of care group and a simple but informative statement of expenses submitted by March 1st to:

Marcia Lemon, DPHHS/IHSB, 1400 Carter Dr, Helena, MT  59604, (406) 447-4276 / mlemon@mt.gov.

RECORD KEEPING – The PIT and HI are annual events and every effort should be made to keep good records and ensure they will be available to future organizers.  Records should include, contact information for participating agencies and volunteers, canvas site locations, survey distribution lists (w/number of surveys distributed to each), a description of the local survey and inventory process and any other important information.  Be sure to share copies with others in your community CoC.  You are also encouraged to send this information to the MT Continuum of Care Coalition (address and email are provided above) which will archive the information so it is retrievable in the event of staff turnover or it is lost.

SURVEY DATA ACCESS – Specific PIT data must be submitted to the HUD Data Exchange Site by April 30th and will also be available to the public on that date.  The MT CoC also strives to have all the data available on the query-based data site by the end of May: http://mthomelessdata.com/

THANK YOU for helping to conduct this statewide survey.

Link to general 2019 PIT Survey info.


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