Howard County Times
Howard County

Howard County officials, volunteers conduct annual census of homeless population

An annual effort to count the number of homeless people living in Howard County resumed last week for the first time since January 2020.

Six teams with staff from the Howard County Health Department, Howard County Police Department,Howard County government and other organizations combed the county from 7 to 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 15. They first gathered at a makeshift command center to learn their routes and pick up backpacks filled with food and other supplies to hand out to people living without permanent homes.

Tina Field, director of Homeless Services for Grassroots, collects backpacks of supplies at the office of Howard County Department of Community Resources and Services as they prepare to conduct the Point-in-Time homeless count in Howard County on Feb. 15. The supplies were to be given to homeless people.

Held every year in communities across the United States, the “point-in-time” count is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in order for communities to receive federal funds for programs to assist homeless people. The census is traditionally held in January, but was moved to February this year due to concerns about high COVID-19 rates.

Cara Baumgartner, administrative assistant for the county’s Office of Community Partnerships, said it is easier to find and count people who are homeless in colder months.


“People disappear when it is warm,” Baumgartner said. “When it is cold, people may be sleeping on grates to stay warm. You can see fogged-up cars. It is the easiest time of year to try and find and count people.”

Beds in homeless shelters also fill up in cold weather, and these sheltered individuals are counted as well.

All workers received training on how to find, approach and handle various situations that could arise while on the count. Staff from the county’s health department were part of each team to provide COVID-19 tests or vaccines, if requested.

Howard County police officer Christopher Cromwell has been participating in the count for four years and is familiar with many of locations where homeless people set up makeshift camps. He also knows many of the individuals, too.

“Some people don’t want help,” Cromwell said. “They have a system set up and don’t want assistance.”

Others, he said, may suffer from addiction or mental illness, and do not make the best choices. During the count, Cromwell’s group talked with three people, including a person who was panhandling at 9:15 p.m. before leaving to set up his tent.

“We get a lot of people from Baltimore because they can get more money [in Howard County] and be more successful,” Cromwell said.

Every individual found on the count was asked to fill out a survey. If they refused, a volunteer later filled one out using the information that could be obtained. Spanish interpreters were on call at the command center if needed.


Individuals were offered backpacks filled with hand warmers, ponchos, a tarp, hygiene kits and information on various resources available in Howard County, and another bag filled with food, including MRES (meals ready to eat).

The night, according to Rose Burton, administrator for the Office of Community Partnerships, “went really, really well.

“We did run out of backpacks on a few routes and a few routes we were surprised we didn’t see as many people,” Burton said. “Encampments were not where they used to be and there were some new ones.”

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Final numbers obtained during the event are not yet available, Burton said. The office has six days after the point-in-time count to collect surveys from other groups, such as churches, schools and shelters. Once all surveys are collected, Burton’s office will “scrub the data” to verify everyone’s status and to ensure no duplicates. Final numbers are due to the federal government in early May.

In 2021, the regular point-in-time count was not conducted; only a count of people in shelters took place. In 2020, the count found 139 people experiencing homelessness in Howard County, with 40 of those unsheltered and 99 sheltered.

According to Burton, the number of homeless people in Howard County is leveling off. She said all jurisdictions worked together at the start of the pandemic to keep homeless people safe by placing them in either permanent or emergency housing.


“We wanted to prevent COVID spread out in public spaces, like public restrooms and fast-food places,” Burton said. “We brought in as many as we could and did get grant funds.”

Karen Booth, vice president of behavioral health services with Humanim, a human services and workforce development nonprofit that helped find permanent housing for many during the pandemic, called the effort ”wildly successful.”

Richard Pardoe, a Coalition to End Homelessness board member, said participating in the point-in-time count is “a powerful experience.”

“It’s heartbreaking,” Pardoe said. “This is a great example of how government, citizens and many different organizations can come together to help people.”