Volunteers still needed for homeless count

Vicky Newman-News-Herald

Word is spreading about the approaching Point-In-Time homeless count, but many more volunteers will be needed to make it a success, Shirley Reno, who is heading the local effort, said.

Reno has been placing posters throughout Loudon County and is asking civic organizations for help. So far, about 10 people have signed up.

"We are hoping to get more," Reno said. "We need 25 or even 50, and now that Christmas is over maybe people will start doing other things."

The Tennessee Valley Coalition to End Homelessness is coordinating the count in search of information about the homeless in Loudon County. An accurate count is needed to apply for federal funds through the Housing and Urban Development Rapid Rehousing Project.

The plan is for volunteers to drive every road in Loudon County, looking for signs of homelessness. According to Loudon County Highway Department Superintendent Eddie Simpson there are 700 miles of county roads.

Reno is optimistic that more volunteers will come forward to help. She believes the importance of the project is understood.

"I think a lot of people are receptive and cognizant of the fact that it is winter and people could be cold and hungry," she said.

A training session for volunteers will take place at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Loudon County Visitors Bureau. Anyone interested in getting involved should call 865-458-4664.

Melanie Cordell, PIT chair 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.

Cordell will provide instructions to volunteers for the training session. Reno said an inability to attend the training session would not prevent a volunteer from participating in the count.

Anyone who would like to volunteer but cannot attend the training sessions may call the county mayor's office at 865-458-4664 or email s.reno@charter.net.

"If they will let me know, I can make sure they get the instructions on the morning of the count," Reno said, "Or I can make sure I send them out with somebody that attended the training."

For safety reasons, all PIT count volunteers will go in pairs and will be required to follow certain protocols in interactions with people.

When the count takes place Jan. 26, the Good Samaritan Center on A Street will serve as headquarters for volunteers.

"We felt the Good Samaritan Center was an appropriate place for headquarters because that's where they see many homeless anyway," Reno said.

Paula Roach, GSC executive director, said she is aware that homeless people do exist in Loudon County.

"As far as people living on the streets, we don't see a lot of that," Roach said. "What we see more than anything are the 'couch homeless' - people staying with friends and relatives or anybody who will let them stay. They can be thrown out at anytime. ... I believe the homeless will become more visible if unemployment remains at the current level."

Judy Howell, GSC client services director, said calls from homeless people are coming almost daily.
"I've had two or three calls from homeless families yesterday," Howell said. "We put one up for one night because they had small children. Then this morning we had a call from KARM (Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries) from somebody that has a job here beginning the first of the year but has no money to find a place.

"A lot of times we tell them if they can stay with a relative we can give them food," Howell said. "Our biggest problem here is we don't have a shelter. People have to have deposits for rent and utilities to get a place. It costs a lot."

Roach said GSC served about 5,500 families in 2011, nearly 1,500 more than in 2010. "That kind of jump should scare all of us," she said.

Loudon County residents who are allowing homeless family members or friends to stay in their homes are asked to report those people by calling 865-458-4664. The information needed by count volunteers includes the number of people living in the home temporarily and some general information about how they became homeless.

Specifics, such as names and locations, will not be asked.

Count volunteers will be gathering anonymous data and 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. Volunteers must sign a confidentiality agreement.

Kaye Hathcock, Lenoir City librarian, said she occasionally sees people at the library who may be homeless.

"A couple of times a year, maybe, we'll have someone here several weeks, all day, every day," Hathcock said. "Of course, there's no way to say for sure they are homeless unless they tell us."

Public buildings, such as libraries, are places where homeless people are sometimes seen, providing access to computers and restrooms in a heated facility.