More than 70 Liberty County residents volunteered the night of Jan. 26 to assist with a count of homeless people in the county.
The physical count of individuals living in vehicles, abandoned or dilapidated buildings, camping in the woods or under bridges was made between 4:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. Prior to moving out in groups of two or more, the volunteers met with Homeless Prevention Program Coordinator Daisy Jones, who coordinated the statewide event for Liberty County, and Assistant City Manager Ken Howard, who also heads the Hinesville Community Development Department.
Jones and Program Assistant Randy Lopez talked with volunteer team leaders as they distributed packets that included a Georgia Department of Community Affairs homeless survey, maps and badges identifying them as part of a survey team.
“You’ve read the book, so team leaders, I’m counting on you to be the one to complete any questions for clarity as it relates to the survey,” Jones said. “You have read the book line by line, so I’m counting on you to be the go-to person for your team if they have a question. … If they say, ‘I don’t want to answer any more questions’ before you’re through, just stop what you’re doing and finish your observations as best you can.”
The survey was conducted using the definition of homeless as defined by Georgia’s DCA. That definition includes those who literally are homeless — living on the street or in a homeless shelter; imminently homeless — facing loss of a home or eviction within two weeks; and other homeless — in jail, a hospital or a detox program but otherwise homeless.
Howard then talked to the volunteers about the importance of the survey and the data they were collecting.
“One of the reasons why this is so important is, well, think about the weather out there right now,” Howard said, referring to the cold, drizzling rain. “Think about the temperature. Due to no fault of their own, there are people who have no access to housing.”
He said another important reason for an accurate count is grants from the state and federal governments are based on the number of homeless in the community. Jones said even though Hinesville contributes about $50,000 a year for the homeless-prevention program, without state and federal funding, they wouldn’t be able to help a lot of homeless people.
She explained that this year’s official homeless count will not be determined until the 29 competed survey are analyzed by Kennesaw State University, which is helping Georgia DCA with the count. Though the number is unofficial, she said the surveys they turned in represented 37 individuals who may be homeless.
The total number is down some from the last homeless count, Jones said. She could only speculate on whether the cold, rainy weather caused some of the homeless to seek shelter outside the targeted areas where the volunteers were looking throughout the county.
She said they also had five observation tools, which were evidence that someone might be homeless but the volunteer doing the survey was unable to talk with them or they refused to talk to them. She said these observations would be sent to DCA.
“We asked every team to report when they were going into an area and when they were going out of an area,” Jones said. “The last team called me at 12:38 a.m. The first teams started going out toward their targeted areas at 5 p.m. They were calling all through the evening.”
Jones said she briefed the Liberty County Homeless Coalition last week with information about services her department provided in 2014. She said counting all the various programs they use to help the homeless, her department helped 408 people last year, whether it was for one night, 10 nights or transitional housing programs.
“Without (state and federal) grants, we couldn’t have re-housed over 80 people we helped through our rapid-rehousing program,” she said, citing an example. “The grants are very crucial to preventing homelessness.”