Counting Homeless

At first read, the article below seems warm and fuzzy enough but a closer read kind of makes me, at least, scratch my head and say, Huh.

The article is about helping the homeless in Loudon County. Seems like a good thing here at Christmas time, helping the homeless but at the first of the story it says Loudon County doesn't really have a bad homeless problem. However, apparently we're going to try to change that.

"An army of volunteers" are going to go through out the county trying to figure out just how many homeless we have. Well on down in the story I think we find out a little more about what counting the homeless is really about. $700,000.00 in grant money. You know free money, magic money.

Loudon County is blessed with a number civic and religious organizations whose sole purpose is helping those in need. If that "free money" can go to help those organizations, I'm sure they could use it. If this is about starting up more government social aid programs, maybe they should just keep their money.

It's kind of like that movie, If You Build It They Will Come. If we start making handouts for the homeless, it wont be long before Loudon County will have a homeless problem.


Loudon seeks volunteers to help with Point In Time Count

Vicky Newman-News Herald

While seldom seen sleeping on park benches, under bridges or camping in forests in tent communities, officials say it is likely that a number of homeless individuals or families do exist locally.

Loudon County will be searching for the invisible homeless during the Point in Time Count slated to take place Jan. 26.

Before the Tennessee Valley Coalition to End Homelessness begins searching for homeless people, they first need an army of volunteers to help with the task. Volunteers will be driving every road in the county and looking at any facility that may house homeless.

"We don't have the problem Knox County has with homelessness, but we do have a problem," Shirley Reno, who was appointed by County Mayor Estelle Herron to head up the task force in Loudon County, said.

"A lot of people don't see the homeless we have here. We have people who are living with their parents or sleeping on couches, going from one friend to the next," she said. "In Loudon County, we don't have a shelter or even a place for them to get a hot meal. That's why we are having this count. There's money to help through the HUD Rapid Rehousing Project, but first we have to find the extent of the problem."

A training session for volunteers will take place at 10 a.m. Jan. 5 at the Loudon County Visitors Bureau. All who would be interested in getting involved should call 458-4664.

Volunteers will be gathering anonymous data. They will not ask individuals for names or personal information. They will not attempt to remove the homeless person from the location and will not report the information to others. In fact, volunteers sign a confidentiality agreement.

The types of information volunteers will seek includes:

The number of people in the family unit and their gender.

Whether domestic violence, alcoholism or addiction or mental or physical illness are factors in the homeless situation.

Where the individual or family slept. Are they unsheltered, in an emergency shelter, in transitional housing or staying with family and friends?

The duration of homelessness and frequency of homeless incidents.

The Point in Time Count could result in more than $700,000 in funding through federal and state grants.

Housing and Urban Development defines homelessness as individuals or families who are residing in places not meant for habitation. "According to HUD, if someone's electricity is turned off, that classifies as homeless," Reno said.

Melanie Cordell, with the Tennessee Valley Coalition to End Homelessness, said the 12-county region has participated in the PIT count for five or six years, but numbers for Loudon have not been solid. HUD is requiring more definitive numbers of grant applicants, Cordell said.

"Last year, Loudon County reported zero homeless in shelters and 17 unsheltered on the streets, 11 chronically homeless and five veterans and 26 people living with family or friends," Cordell said. "We want to do a stronger count and get more accurate numbers, but we have not had enough volunteers to get an accurate count.

"One person can't cover the entire county. You need a ton of people, including police officers. The purpose is to meet the needs of the homeless," Cordell said. "We want people to be served in their own county."

Homeless people sometimes may be found in campgrounds or parks, sleeping in vehicles in parking lots of hospitals and 24-hour restaurants, living in abandoned buildings, beneath bridges, in culverts or in public libraries.

"This is a big county, and we are going to have to beat the bushes," Cordell said. "Our goal is to get them into homes. We are not looking at shelters. Shelters are too expensive."

Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens, who also serves as Loudon County Sheriff's Office chief deputy, said he was not aware of homeless people camping out for extended periods in the county. "We do occasionally get calls from people about homeless people," he said. "Naturally, we run into those people."

When homeless are identified, Aikens said law enforcement officers usually work with Good Samaritan Center or local churches to help. Sometimes they provide rooms at a local hotel. "Usually that is for a family with children," Aikens said.

Anyone with more questions or needing information should call the county mayor's office at 458-4664 or email Reno at
s.reno@charter.net

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12/5/11