A required national count of homeless individuals and families is taking place locally today and continuing for a 24-hour period as part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development annual needs-assessment survey.
Called the Point-In-Time Count, the survey is designed to provide a snapshot of how many people are living in shelters, on the streets and in places not fit for human habitation on a given day across the country.
Stephen Crane, executive director of Reinvestment in Communities of Gaston County, the lead organization overseeing the local effort, told the Times-News Tuesday that this is the first year the HUD is requiring the count to take place on an annual basis. Previously, it was conducted every other year.
While the count’s ultimate goal is reducing and ending homelessness, he said, the level of need must first be established.
“It starts with clear and proper data,” Crane said.
Once those numbers are attained, they can be compared with the level of available resources to determine whether there’s a gap.
This then helps with the allocation of funds to aid those areas most in need.
Member organizations that make up the Continuum of Care (CoC) for Gaston/Lincoln/Cleveland counties, their staff, boards and volunteers will be gathering the information about where people would be sleeping tonight.
Based on the number of sheltered and unsheltered individuals and families throughout the region, funding qualifications will then be established.
Citizens are being asked to help with the survey, in order to gain a clear picture of the homeless issue as it relates to each local community. While Crane said the homeless crisis began during the Reagan era, when various institutions were shut down across the country, the rate of home foreclosures and unemployment over the last few years have added to the problem.
“Most often, people do not understand the scope of homelessness and its impact on a community,” said Selina Pate, current chair of the local CoC. “A person may be sleeping on a friend’s or relative’s couch, fleeing a domestic violence situation, or have lost their housing arrangement due to job or medical issues. People deserve to be counted, and one result is an opportunity to demonstrate the scope of the need for services and program options.”
Shelters, soup-kitchen programs and programs serving the homeless populations are the expected gathering sites and survey sites for this year’s count. Crane said Christian Ministry of Lincoln County, Hesed House of Hope, the local school system and the county’s Veterans Services Office are all expected to help with the count.
Other local CoC organizations and agencies participating include Amy’s House and the Salvation Army.
In 2012, 611 individuals were counted, with only 322 beds available to house them. Likewise, just 35 new permanent-housing beds became available in 2012 throughout the region, according to a press release from Reinvestment in Communities.
“The face of a homeless individual is not just some ragged drunk, as often portrayed in the media, but rather ordinary individuals we encounter every day on the street, at the grocery store, in our churches,” Crane said. “Homelessness has touched many unexpected lives over the years.”
This year’s survey is particularly focused on finding both veterans and youth, ages 14-21, who may be homeless.
Want to help?
Individuals wishing to assist with the Point-In-Time Count should contact one of the participating CoC agencies or call Reinvestment in Communities at (704) 866-6766.
Organizations or churches serving meals are also critical to the success of the initiative and are asked to contact the same number.
For more information, visit www.hudhre.info.