Counting the homeless: 2009

On Wednesday, January 28th, the Homeless Prevention Coalition of Guilford County conducted its annual Point in Time Count, a nation-wide count of the homeless mandated by the Department of Housing and Development.  The yearly census, conducted over a 24-hour period each January, helps determine the funding that each community receives from the government to provide services and housing for homeless people.  The count begins early and continues into the night, with counts done at shelters, transitional housing facilities, meal locations, and on the street.

During the afternoon, I checked out some outside homeless camps and some sleeping spots in empty houses and commercial buildings, with the help of a friend who’s been homeless in Greensboro for about four years.  He also pointed out camps and panhandling spots all over Greensboro.  We didn’t find anybody at the sleeping spots during the afternoon, but it was early for people to be there, and we’ll visit again on our Friday NightWatch street outreaches, bringing hot meals, blankets and other supplies.  Beginning at around 8:00 p.m., dozens of volunteers and Greensboro police officers went out to count homeless people who are living outside, and my friend rode with an officer who was counting with us for the first time.

During the night count, another currently homeless friend and I rode with downtown cops Tim Tepedino and Brad Johnson.  We checked bridges, camps, parked vehicles, parking decks, abandoned buildings, warehouses and street locations.  We counted 10 homeless people and also ran into some people who had already been counted by other teams. I saw old friends and made some new ones, and found additional locations to visit on NightWatch.  Totals from the count should be announced in about two weeks.  Stay tuned.

» Links to news coverage (stories and video) here.

News stories about 2009 homeless count

Counting the homeless: Volunteers try to find them all
GREENSBORO – On Wednesday, a man who would only give his name as J. stood along Battleground Avenue holding a sign: “Homeless. Please Help Me. God Bless You.” A smiley face punctuated the plea…

Volunteers Count Homeless People In Greensboro (no longer available online)
GREENSBORO – Police officers and volunteers took to the streets Wednesday night to count the number of homeless people in Greensboro…

Communities identify homeless numbers (no longer available online)
GREENSBORO – Hundreds of volunteers in Greensboro hit the streets, shelters and soup kitchens just before dawn Wednesday to count the number of homeless in their communities as part of a federal mandate by Housing and Urban Development…

Answer: It takes more than a home…

Question: “Can a home save the homeless?” That’s the title of Amanda Lehmert’s 11/16/2008 News & Record article on the housing support team program — an initiative to move chronically homeless people from the street into housing.

Vincent Sims used to sleep under the Lee Street bridge. He spent some of his Social Security money on drugs and booze. Banned from city shelters for schizophrenia- and drug-fueled outbursts, he sometimes got arrested just to have a warm, safe place to spend a few hours. And when he got out of jail, he’d go right back to sleeping by the train tracks or in abandoned buildings. Then one day last year, the Rev. Mike Aiken approached him with an offer: a no-strings-attached apartment through a new Guilford County program…

I met Vincent years ago. He is one of dozens of my friends who has moved off the street and into a home in the past year through the new housing program.

…The housing support team, a partnership between Family Service of the Piedmont, the Greensboro Housing Coalition and Open Door Ministries with help from local social service agencies, started searching for homeless residents in mid-2007.

“They had to be someone who is cycling through the system a lot,” said Mitch McGee, the housing support team coordinator. “In and out of jail, in and out of the hospital.”

Folks who continue to live on the street no matter how many times police pick them up or nonprofits feed them a hot meal. Folks like Reid James.

In the summer of 2006, James, a 47-year-old who suffers from bipolar disorder and depression, ran out of friends willing to take her in….

» Read “Can a home save the homeless?,” online at the News & Record
» Printable PDF of article
» See a slideshow of Vincent’s photos here.

Reporter Amanda Lehmert doesn’t address the program’s major flaw — serious problems with the availability and delivery of supportive services — a fundamental component of the program, and a necessity for the long-term success of the program’s participants.  YES! Weekly’s Jordan Green reported on that issue earlier in his 09/24/2008 article, “Formerly homeless clients find services lacking.”  Jordan interviewed some of the same folks that Amanda did, and my friend Reid James is featured in both newspaper’s articles.

I’d suggest reading both articles to get a fuller perspective on the housing support program — the good and the not-so-good.  I’m thankful for the program, but I want to see all the supportive services issues addressed so that our friends can truly experience recovery, health and wholeness.  Housing alone will not end homelessness.