Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens." --J.R.R. Tolkien

A week ago today, while the rest of us were sitting in classes and at work, a team of volunteers was out on the streets.  Every year or two, volunteers from every county combine to drive the streets of our communities, contact local shelters, and try to determine how many individuals in our community are homeless.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) puts on this Point-In-Time (P.I.T.) Count to help assess the needs of our communities, and uses the numbers from these counts to determine each county's funding.

However, while government definitions of homelessness include individuals/families who are ¨couch-surfing¨ or ¨doubled-up¨ (living with relatives/friends), HUD does not consider these individuals to be homeless.  HUD allocates funding to support those who are without any shelter, finding shelter in places unintended for human habitation, or staying in homeless shelters.  On top of this, homeless individuals--especially in rural areas such as our own--are very effective at hiding their situations, and the number of those teaming up for the Point-In-Time Count is solely based on the number of volunteers.  Volunteers only have around 8 hours to assess the needs of an entire county.

As a result of all of these things combined, the 2015 P.I.T. Count determined that, on any given day, only 5 individuals were homeless in Franklin County.  Yet, we know that, that same year, over 550 students were homeless, and, in 2012, over 1,400 individuals stayed at the Agape House shelter.  These numbers simply don't add up.

While the HUD Point-In-Time is not extremely accurate, it does provide a snapshot of various components of homelessness.  It reminds us that there are homeless in our communities, and these individuals may be veterans, disabled, members of families, or have other situations that need attention.  It is nearly impossible to get a pin-point count of homelessness in our communities, but making our county's Point-In-Time count more effective (as many people are working to do) will only help us get those in need the life-changing help they need.

As the numbers are being tallied from this year's P.I.T., we can only hope that we can use the information we need to better our communities, and thank the volunteers for the time and efforts they donate.