A rolled-up sleeping bag in January of 2018 sits on...

A rolled-up sleeping bag in January of 2018 sits on the floor at First Presbyterian Church of Glen Cove which hosts the North Shore Sheltering Program for homeless men. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Volunteers are set to fan out across Long Island on Wednesday in an effort to determine the homeless population in Nassau and Suffolk counties — part of a national event known as a “point in time” count.

The annual count gives local and federal officials a snapshot of the homeless population to better determine the kind of programs needed to serve them, officials said.

“Our goal is to end homelessness and reduce the length of time anyone who is homeless remains homeless,” said Greta Guarton, executive director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, which the federal government has designated to work with other local groups on services for the homeless. “This gives us an idea of how much progress we have made, what gaps there are in our system and how we can work to fill those gaps.”

The count includes people in emergency housing, shelters and other facilities, as well as unsheltered people living on the streets.

According to the 2023 count, there were 3,536 homeless people overall on Long Island with 1,463 being people under the age of 18. That was an increase from 2022, when there were 3,034 homeless people and 1,163 were people under the age of 18.

Guarton said social services organizations are seeing more unsheltered homeless people on Long Island, with the trend appearing to be older and often female.

“It’s not just a city problem, there are lots of homeless people on Long Island and services are needed,” said Karen Boorshtein, CEO of the Huntington-based Family Service League, which operates programs and shelters to help Long Islanders who are homeless. “It’s just not about shelters but job training, access to food, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment … so they do not recycle back into homelessness.”

Boorshtein said more people became homeless after protections against evictions, put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, were lifted.

For the count, teams of three or four volunteers will focus on areas they are familiar with and where homeless people have been identified for about three hours, said Michael Giuffrida, associate director at the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, who is organizing the count.

More experienced outreach workers will cover more areas for longer periods of the day and will also check on locations such as wooded encampments that inexperienced volunteers may not be sent to, he said.

“For each person encountered, they are asked a set of survey questions that better informs us about who is living outside and their needs,” Giuffrida said. “Groups are provided with essential items such as food, hygiene products, warm weather clothes and resource guides.”

He said the coalition helped develop the survey and other protocols with the assistance of people who have experienced homelessness. 

Being kind and nonjudgmental is key to engaging people on the street who may be fearful and skeptical of anyone who approaches them, he said.

“[There] is the misconception that homelessness is the fault of the individual when all data and information consistently show that homelessness is often the result of failed systems and unfortunate or dangerous circumstances such as an injury on the job, housing discrimination, domestic violence, death of a family member, illness, etc.” Giuffrida said.

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