Leaders of the 2013 Liberty County Homeless Count held an after-actions review Wednesday at the human resource training room in city hall.
While emphasizing that the numbers represented only an unofficial count, coordinator Daisy Jones said 102 homeless surveys were collected, representing both single adults and adults with family members. The unofficial total was 235 homeless people. The surveys will be sent to Kennesaw State University by Feb. 15, with official results not expected until August.
“The count was situational and represented a point in time,” Jones said. “Because homelessness is transitional, we’ll never know the exact number of homeless in Liberty County.”
The count was conducted Jan. 29-Feb. 4, with surveys distributed and collected by volunteers going door to door at local motels and locating homeless people living in tents in the woods, under bridges or in abandoned homes and storage shelters. Most surveys were made available through service organizations, such as the United Way, the Division of Family and Children’s Services, the Red Cross, the Kirk Healing Center, the Manna House and local churches.
Jones, who also is the Hinesville Homeless Prevention Program Coordinator, and Pastor Hermon Scott, president of the Liberty County Homeless Coalition, supervised the count.
Scott and Jones asked volunteers to give feedback about lessons learned during the count. Several of the volunteers who went out in teams reported that they felt like the numbers did not reflect the true number of homeless in the community. United Way representatives, for example, said they see more homeless on a normal day at their office than they did during the survey. Others wondered if some homeless people were afraid to respond to the survey.
One volunteer suggested that some of the homeless who were receiving assistance to stay in a local motel didn’t want to say they were homeless because they were waiting for their tax return. He said these families probably would take their returns and rent a trailer for a few weeks or months, and then wind up homeless again because they had no viable income.
Jones noted that the survey asked respondents what type of place they spent the night in on Jan. 28. When asked if they considered themselves homeless, 65 respondents said yes, 35 said no and two said they didn’t know.
A Red Cross volunteer said they should have volunteers wear some kind of identification next time so people might be less apprehensive about responding to the survey or simply opening their doors. Another volunteer suggested they ensure the homeless in the emergency room at Liberty Regional Medical Center were accounted for. Still another suggested they advertise about the count on one of the electronic billboards where homeless people are more likely to see it.
Assistant City Manager Kenneth Howard told volunteers that attempts to count the homeless in Hinesville go back 13 years. He suggested taking the number of homeless identified just 10 years ago and multiplying it by five. He said that number would be close to the 300 or more homeless people the city has helped in the past 10 years.
“We have been restricted to the city limits of Hinesville. But homelessness is bigger than that. It’s the whole county,” Howard said. “As a community, now we can apply for funding for the whole county, not just the city.”