Through steady snowfall and temperatures below 20 degrees, a team of nine canvassed Boulder on Monday evening to survey the homeless population.

The annual effort, conducted nationwide in the final days of January, is called the Point-In-Time survey.

Volunteers spend several hours of one night counting the number of homeless people in their cities, and collecting data on age, gender, race, how long people have been homeless, whether they have families and more.

That information is then processed by Housing and Urban Development and helps determine how to allocate federal money and other resources.

In the city of Boulder, the survey is part of a larger count in the county, which is one of seven in the region managed by the Denver Metro Homeless Initiative.

Volunteer Chris Mitchell talks to David Conway while conducting a survey of the homeless on Monday night at the Boulder Public Library main branch. See a
Volunteer Chris Mitchell talks to David Conway while conducting a survey of the homeless on Monday night at the Boulder Public Library main branch. See a video about the survey at dailycamera.com. (Jeremy Papasso/ Daily Camera)

"The purpose is to get a better understanding of the homeless population in the region so that we can really think about how to meet the needs," Human Services Planning Division Manager Wendy Schwartz said. "If you're going to apply for HUD funding, then you have to participate in the Point-In-Time survey."

That's the rationale volunteer Chris Mitchell was giving people Monday night when met with responses like, "We have to be counted to exist?"

Inside and underneath the Boulder Public Library, Mitchell and Eliana Berlfein spoke with about 12 men. Hardly anyone declined, though there was some hesitation.

Mitchell has done this before and even knew some of the men he spoke to by name. He was homeless when he came to Boulder seven years ago. Now, he helps run Friends Encouraging Eating Daily, which provides meals to the homeless. Before that, he ran Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow.

All of that experience helps him get the Point-In-Time survey done.

"Since I've been here, the homeless community has been my family," he said, having just climbed a steep, snowy and rocky hill out from under a bridge.

Michael Comacho, right, sits as volunteers Chris Mitchell and Eliana Berlfein, left, conduct a survey of the homeless Monday night at the Boulder Public
Michael Comacho, right, sits as volunteers Chris Mitchell and Eliana Berlfein, left, conduct a survey of the homeless Monday night at the Boulder Public Library main branch. The two other people in the photograph asked not to be identified. (Jeremy Papasso / Daily Camera)

Mitchell wasn't the only formerly homeless volunteer Monday night.

Dennis Fee was answering the survey questions himself just two years ago. This year, the Navy veteran and Bridge House employee compiled a list of the most likely places to find people and helped lead the planning meeting at the Senior Center before the volunteers dispersed.

"I realized how important it was for someone to be given a chance to be counted," Fee said of his survey two years ago. "(Now) I tell 'em, 'Hey, I'm a former homeless person and I was in the Navy.'"

Fee's experience helps him make a connection with the people he's surveying, and it also helps him know where to look. Fee's top suggestions included the library, the bandshell, underneath bridges, tunnels, motels, Eben G. Fine Park, the Pearl Street Mall and the bus station.

Some of the effort on Monday night involved outreach. Two volunteers went out just to talk to kids who won't take the survey, and tell them where they can find help. Mitchell handed out socks to the men he encountered outside.

Alma Collins, a social work intern at Bridge House, said, "I thought it would be a good opportunity for people who don't come in to reach out to Bridge House and see how people live. It's a good chance for us to really find out how many unsheltered people there are, to better target services."

It's not a completely accurate count, since some people won't be found and others refuse to answer, Schwartz pointed out.

In 2012, the city count came in at 750. Last year, it was 748. Out of those counted in 2013, about 45 percent were families with children. The top cited factor for homelessness was job loss, at 35 percent. The second highest was the cost of housing, at 32 percent.

Full reports can be found on the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative website, mdhi.org, under Reports and Documents. Schwartz expects this year's data to be fully compiled and release in May.