Regional homeless count under way

Sue Guinn Legg • Jan 24, 2013 at 9:12 PM

The Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness is conducting its annual 24-hour count of the homeless population in the eight counties of Northeast Tennessee.

The “point in time” count is mandated annually by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and is used by HUD to determine both the amount and designated use of federal funding for housing and homeless support services allocated to nonprofit service agencies across the region.

ARCH volunteers began canvassing streets, public parks and campgrounds, known homeless camps, shelters, emergency kitchens and agencies serving the homeless at noon on Thursday and will continue the count through noon today. Volunteers are also manning a telephone hotline at the ARCH office in Johnson City and encouraging individuals who are “couch homeless,” or living temporarily in the homes of relatives and friends, to call 877-754-8387, ext. 105, ext. 108 or ext. 111, to be included.

A voluntary survey is conducted in conjunction with the count to gather statistics including the survey participants’ history of housing, employment, military service, mental health care, drug and alcohol use and previous episodes of homelessness.

Don Minor, chairman of the ARCH Point in Time Committee, said the results will require several weeks to tabulate and will be made public at the same time they are forwarded to HUD.

“This count is critical to funding requests for multiple agencies that serve the homeless,” Minor said.

The counts have consistently identified more than 800 homeless people living in the eight-county area with the majority of those located in Washington County. Past surveys have also shown as many as 35 percent of the region’s homeless population are military veterans, although the number of homeless veterans has declined as federal funding for housing and homeless support services for veterans has been increased.

In addition to an annual count of homeless individuals at shelters and other service agencies, every other year HUD requires regional service agency coalitions like ARCH to count those who live on the street and in other locations not meant for human habitation.

While last year’s count did not require a survey of those living outside of shelters, Dreama Shreve, executive director of ARCH, said the coalition canvases rural and urban areas across the region every year to give its member agencies a more complete picture of the population they serve.

HUD requires the count to be conducted at the end of January because cold weather causes larger numbers of people who live on the streets to come to shelters.

While the timing is intended to provide a more accurate count, Minor said it makes it difficult for volunteers who canvass camping areas in the surrounding mountains. “They’re predicting this winter storm tonight and tomorrow morning, but the winds out there are really cutting through our people already,” he said early Thursday afternoon.

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