Official January homeless count uncovers higher number than expected
Where do we go from here?
That's what some local people are wondering after participating in the Jan. 26 Point In Time Homeless Count, reviewing and crunching the numbers and determining that Loudon County does have a homeless problem of greater proportions than originally known.
Melanie Cordell, PIT chair with the Tennessee Valley Coalition to End Homelessness, said she felt the count this year was a more accurate reflection of the region's problem.
"I submitted our count results to Washington, D.C., (Wednesday), and I had to give them an explanation. In our region, the numbers increased 100 percent," Cordell said. "That is because these numbers are a lot more realistic. It is a valid count - a true count of the homeless."
The coalition covers 12 counties, including Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson, Loudon, Monroe, Sevier and Union. The entire region total for unsheltered homeless was 481.
In Loudon County, the final tally stood at 290 - 203 precariously housed, 58 sheltered and 29 unsheltered.
"We are working with mayors in several counties on grants for services to help the homeless," Cordell said. "Loudon has a good homeless count and quite a bit of people in need. It is one of counties that would qualify."
Blount, Monroe, Campbell and Anderson counties are working on grants, she said.
"They are using the numbers to look at emergency shelters and look at funding, working with mayors in the city and county governments," she explained. "They're trying to get funding at the local level for residential programs."
Cordell said Loudon County is, unfortunately, not a strong participant in the coalition.
"My concern is that we need more participation from social service agencies. The Good Samaritan Center of Loudon County is the only one on board - the only partner in our coalition," she said. "We need more agencies that serve homeless and at-risk populations. Anyone that serves the homeless, including churches are needed. We need good people - across the board - from faith-based organizations, education and housing authorities. We need someone from a bank and from substance abuse treatment facilities. We need a veteran."
County Mayor Estelle Herron said she was surprised the numbers were so high.
"I would have thought maybe 100 or 150, somewhere in that area, but it is really high," Herron said. "At some point, we need the committee to sit down and review the information and see where we need to go, what direction we should take."
"Where do we go from here - that's what I want to know," said Paula Roach, director of the Good Samaritan Center of Loudon County, a member of the coalition and a participant in the count.
Roach said she provided the final homeless numbers to the Lenoir City and Loudon County mayors as well as Lenoir City Administrator Dale Hurst.
"This problem is not going to go away," Roach said. "It is getting worse. It's pretty scary. Something needs to be done to help these people."
GSC intake worker Nancy Beaupre agreed to keep a continuously updated count of homeless numbers.
Cindy Purdy, Loudon County Schools family resource center director, said homelessness is a well-hidden problem in schools.
"It is kind of a big secret because nobody wants to talk about it," she said. "Nobody wants to be identified as homeless. They are afraid they will lose their kids." Purdy knows of students living in tents and cars.
School systems provide special services to homeless students to help ensure they will complete school that year, Purdy said, adding that school system definitions for homelessness do not include the precariously housed that were included in the PIT Count.
"In the schools, if they are homeless part of the year they are counted as homeless all year, even if they move in with someone else," Purdy said.
Shirley Reno, who directed the local PIT Count, said she has not been asked to give a report to Loudon County Commissioners. However, she said some citizens have expressed to her an interest in launching a faith-based emergency service mission for homeless people.