Dozens of service-providing organizations, government agencies and churches are collaborating next week under the direction of the Liberty County Homeless Coalition and the Hinesville Homeless Prevention Program.
Volunteers will count homeless people who come to their organizations for assistance, while others will seek out homeless people where they live — in cars, the woods, abandoned homes and outbuildings. According to count coordinator Daisy Jones, the count will begin Jan. 29 and continue through Feb. 4.
“The count is extremely important,” said Jones, who also is the Homeless Prevention Program coordinator. “We want to know exactly how many homeless people there are in the county. We need to capture an accurate number because state and federal money (to help the homeless) is tied to numbers.”
She added that the county needs to know the real numbers, not what she called “guesstimates.” She said mayors across the county are supporting her and Pastor Hermon Scott, president of the Liberty County Homeless Coalition. Both Jones and Scott said they believe the number of actual homeless previously has been underestimated.
Jones said among those agencies and organizations providing volunteers were those who make the most referrals for assistance, including the Division of Family and Children Services, the United Way and the Liberty County Board of Education. While admitting their referrals might not always include homeless people, she said their one-on-one contact with those in need is a great source for the Georgia Housing Status Survey, which will ask where those applying for assistance spent the night Jan. 28. The survey does not require the volunteer to determine if someone is homeless.
The survey also does not ask for names or Social Security numbers, Jones said. It does ask for initials and date of birth to ensure there’s no duplication of data. Jones said they will review the surveys to mitigate any possible duplication.
“We had a training workshop this week with our volunteers,” Jones said. “I trained them to explain why they were asking these questions, so people won’t be reluctant to answer. One of the challenges will be finding the homeless in the rural areas of the county. Chief (Dennis) Fitzgerald (Riceboro Volunteer Fire Department) has volunteered to lead the count in rural areas.”
Fitzgerald, who also is commander of American Legion Post 321, said he and several Legionnaires and firefighters will follow Jones’ instructions to go out in pairs, asking only those questions on the survey while explaining the reason for the survey.
“I know quite a few homeless folks here around Riceboro,” Fitzgerald said. “I know where they like to hide. I can probably find four or five right now in the woods off a back road between Riceboro and Midway. I know of another guy who lives under a bridge near Riceboro.”
Jones asks the public to help with the count. She said if anyone knows a homeless person to please refer him or her to one of the many agencies that provide assistance and will be taking part in the homeless count.
For more information, call Scott at 368-9154 or Jones at 876-6573.