ForKids helps count homeless

Published 10:08 pm Thursday, January 26, 2012

ForKids employees and volunteers spent Thursday conducting a vital exercise — the annual homeless count.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires agencies in each region to submit data on the number of homeless people in their region. On the same day in January each year, people all over the country are involved in trying to locate and count the homeless in each community.

Brittany Peterson, an intern for ForKids, arranges water bottles and bags of hygiene supplies for homeless people to pick up. The organization helped conduct the annual Point-in-Time Homeless Count on Thursday, which allows the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to know where to send funding and resources.

But this year, ForKids did it a little differently.

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In the past, employees and volunteers went out to places where homeless people usually spend their time — downtown benches, abandoned buildings and wooded areas. Police officers led the expeditions for the safety of the employees and because they typically know where homeless people hang out.

But in recent years, the volunteers often found signs of homeless people, such as camps in the woods with trash and clothes strewn about, but few actual people.

Even those who were located often were reluctant to answer questions because of the presence of police officers, said Sarah Johnson, senior manager of in-home services for ForKids.

“We decided it might make more sense to bring people to us,” she said.

This year, the staff passed out fliers at motels, convenience stores, churches, homeless ministries, social services and the Salvation Army, promising food, hats and gloves, hygiene products, water bottles and blankets to all comers.

Three hours before the count was over, about eight people had shown up.

“It seems to be working better,” Johnson said.

As in past years, the group also reached out to hospitals and jails in the area for a count of people who had indicated they were homeless upon their arrival.

The people who arrived at the shelter were asked questions about their race, children, marital and veteran status, whether they have ever been diagnosed with a mental disorder and whether they are HIV positive, among other questions required by HUD.