A group of nonprofits reported a spike this year in the number of homeless people living in Chittenden County.
January's annual "point in time" event, when volunteers track the number of people spending the night in cars, on the streets or in emergency shelters, tallied 359 homeless people, according to the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance, which released the figures on Friday. That's a 19 percent increase from 2017, when volunteers counted 291 homeless individuals.
The increase comes after the number of homeless people had declined for two consecutive years from a 2015 high of 471. The alliance counted 332 homeless people in 2016.
The spike could have been influenced by cold weather on the night of the count, according to Margaret Bozik, who works for Champlain Housing Trust and serves as cochair of the homeless alliance. More homeless people sought shelter that night, making it easier for volunteers to tally the numbers, she said.
Nonetheless, the size of the increase was unexpected, Bozik said, and the alliance called it a "cause for concern."
The rise was driven largely by an increase in homeless single adults in shelters, according to a release from the alliance. Meanwhile, the number of homeless families and the number of people spending the night outside decreased.
The overall numbers of homeless individuals across the state decreased by two, from 934 to 932, according to Bozik.
Housing organizations such as Bozik's CHT have long had trouble finding a reliable way to measure progress. The weather on the night of the count can affect the totals, Bozik said. Year to year, the number of volunteers fluctuates, and the way data is collected and tallied isn't always standardized. Bozik said she didn't known how many of the homeless individuals counted were also tallied the year before.
The homeless alliance is working on creating a master list database that would allow service agencies to enter information year-round for more up-to-date totals, Bozik said. But for now, the point in time numbers will have to do.