Volunteers will spread across Grande Prairie Wednesday night to get a better picture of the community’s homeless population. It’s the 5th Point-in-Time Count on Homelessness, which is done every two years.

From 7 to 10 p.m. people in reflective safety vests will be canvassing neighbourhoods, but they won’t just be taking account of people living on the street. Research and Evaluation Analyst with the City of Grande Prairie Forrest McGregor says they’ll be talking to everyone they come across.

“You really can’t tell by looking at someone what their experience is. It’s also a chance for us to, sort of for the first time, put our thumb on the pulse of what the general public really is thinking about homelessness and how it has touched their lives.”

The volunteers will be having a discussion about housing and homelessness with everyone they meet, and will do a short survey with anyone who says they are experiencing homelessness. The city uses the data to track how many people are sleeping in emergency shelters, vehicles, empty buildings, tents, short-term housing, motels, and in the heath system or corrections.

“The actual number that we get in the end comes primarily from administrative data [from] the shelters, transitional health providers, health facilities, treatment programs, anywhere in the city where people are living in a temporary way basically,” McGregor explains. “The street surveys are the way for us to learn a little bit more about those people.”

They’re also a way to make sure people are connected with resources in the city, as volunteers will have the information on where they can go for help. McGregor says during the last count in 2016, several people they came across who were experiencing homelessness hadn’t been connected with any local organizations.

“That was a big win in that count, so we hope that will happen again.”

The results of the survey are used to make sure the city’s 5 Year Plan to End Homelessness is on the right track. The same point-in-time count is also being done with six other cities in Alberta on the same night, which is why it’s being done in the spring instead of the fall as in previous years.