SPOKANE, Wash. — Inside Union Gospel Mission Thursday night, volunteers were shaking hands, providing food, and most importantly, counting.

Thursday was the start of Spokane's "Point in Time" census, adding up the number of people living homeless, both on the streets and in shelters.

"It's a time for us to be able to understand what their needs are, how our resources can be better suited to meet the needs they have and really make a connection with the people who are experiencing homelessness," said City of Spokane Communications Director Brian Coddington.

This is the first year the snapshot is being taken digitally, bringing in smart phones to conduct the interviews, with information that gets evaluated both on the local and national level.

"We ask demographic information, reasons for homelessness, questions about any sort of health or substance abuse so we can have make sure we have services for that, as well as E.R. visits and number of times homeless," said Homeless Services Program Manager Tija Danzig.

Data from past surveys showed an 11 percent increase in the homeless population over the last two years, an increase the city hopes to change.

"The goal is to be better every year and that's what the city and its service providers are doing," Coddington explained.

Mike Armijo is part of the statistic. He has been homeless for three years and considers himself one of the lucky ones, now living in a shelter.

"The most-needed improvement is for people to have understanding of what other people are going through," Armijo said.

The final count is not just for the city. The information will be sent to the federal government to help allocate state and federal funds. Volunteers will be asking questions throughout the week, always with the goal of finding out where each person will be sleeping.