The Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness wrapped up its annual 24-hour point-in-time homeless count Friday at shelters, public kitchens and other walk-in service sites across the eight counties of Northeast Tennessee.
Conducted nationwide each January, the count is mandated by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for participation in HUD’s Continuum of Care grant program for community-based housing and support services for people who are homeless.
The count has historically identified more than 800 homeless individuals in the Northeast Tennessee region and last year resulted in awarding nearly $1.3 million in COC funding to local nonprofit agencies and housing programs aligned through ARCH.
Dreama Shreve, executive director of ARCH, said while this year’s count was mandated for only homeless individuals who are sheltered, volunteers canvassed streets and other areas not meant for human habitation in urban areas across the region to give the local coalition and its member agencies a more complete picture. “We need that. Our agencies need that,” Shreve said.
A more intensive count that includes homeless individuals who are “unsheltered” and living in rural areas is mandated by HUD every two years and will be conducted again in January 2013.
Locally, this year’s count was conducted during the 24-hour period than ended at noon Friday. About 30 volunteers, including staff members from local service agencies and students from East Tennessee State University and Milligan College, assisted in the count and a voluntary survey was offered to individuals who are homeless.
Among the volunteers, Dr. Joyce Duncan, a teacher in ETSU’s Department of Education, and a group of 10 students from her Introduction to Service Learning class conducted survey interviews Friday at the The Melting Pot, Good Samaritan Ministries’ daily feeding program at Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church in downtown Johnson City.
Will Diebold, an elementary education major at ETSU, surveyed several people at The Melting Pot and was surprised by the education the opportunity afforded. “It was surprising to me that people in the situations they are in have a really good attitude. I compare that to my problems and I thought my problems are nothing. They’re nothing compared to this.”
Diebold said he was also surprised by how much he had in common with the people he interviewed and by the number of children and infants who were at The Melting Pot for lunch on Friday.
Duncan, a long-time ARCH volunteer, said she was concerned by the types of individuals found in this year’s count. “They’re younger and they’re better educated. That’s concerning,” Duncan said. “There are also more families and more women (this year).”
Findings from the local count, including statistics on the survey participants’ history of housing and employment, military service, mental health treatment, drug and alcohol use and previous episodes of homeless, require several weeks to tabulate and are expected to be released in March.
“We know we’re not getting them all. But we’ll see what the numbers show,” Shreve said.