Volunteers sought for Bartow County homeless count
by Matt Shinall
Jan 15, 2013 | 2270 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In an effort to better serve the state’s homeless population, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs is partnering with organizations across the state to better understand the homeless situation in Georgia.

For Bartow County, the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter is leading the initiative that will attempt to take a census of the local homeless population on Monday, Jan. 28, an effort not fully undertaken in several years.

“I believe 80 out of the 159 counties in the state of Georgia will be doing counts on that day,” said Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter Executive Director Jessica Mitcham. “If Bartow has participated as a county, it has been several cycles since we have. For the past few cycles, the state just takes the counties that do participate, create some statistical information from that and then make some assesments of non-participating counties.

“In 2011, we were a non-participating county and they put out ranges from those counties. Bartow is in a range where there are between 100 and 500 people who are homeless. Personally, I find that to not be a very helpful statistic because 100 is a very different problem than 500. So, I’m hoping with this count we’ll get a more accurate number.”

The DCA homeless count occurs every other year and this year Mitcham is looking for volunteers to help make the effort a success. Churches, civic organizations and individuals have stepped forward to form teams of four or five. On Jan. 28, these teams will be assigned a location known to be the home of unsheltered individuals. Once volunteer teams locate unsheltered individuals, they will use a brief survey tool to take some demographic information for the count.

“We will be using a very simple survey tool,” Mitcham said. “It looks similar to the Census survey. It’s a one-page document — front and back — and it just collects some demographic information, and our goal is just to get as accurate a count as we can of how many people are living homeless in Bartow County.

“We have spoken to the sheriff’s department and other agencies providing homeless outreach to come up with a comprehensive list of where they know of anyone living unsheltered so that we can reach out to them and find out some information — how long they’ve been homeless, where they spent the prior night, if they know of any resources, why they might use those resources and why not — just to make sure we’re doing the best we can to reach out to those living unsheltered in our community.”

While some homeless choose to remain unsheltered, Mitcham hopes the count may accomplish a secondary objective by raising awareness for any resources people may not know of or may not know how to utilize.

Volunteers also will be asked to carry with them hot meals provided by Sam Jones Memorial United Methodist Church. A grant has helped secure funding for enough meals to allow volunteers to feed those they speak with.

In addition to the volunteer efforts on Jan. 28, staff of the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter will be working to reach homeless individuals currently benefitting from some form of assistance so that the count can be as inclusive as possible.

“We’ve got two populations we’re going to be working very hard to count,” Mitcham said, describing their goal to reach the assisted and the unassisted. “We’re going to be counting anyone who is in any housing program. So we’re contacting all the shelters, any half-way houses, any church efforts to house anyone. My staff will be working pretty hard to get all of those individuals counted, because there will be volunteers or staff members at those locations to help fill out surveys.

“We want to find as many unsheltered people as we can living in Bartow County. ... It’s been a while since we’ve been able to say with that much accuracy, ‘This is how many people we can find.’”

The efforts of shelter staff will include families living in hotels or motels with the assistance of short-term housing aid.

Mitcham is looking to fill 12 to 15 teams of four to five people each. Volunteer training will be available at two times at the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter, 110 Porter St. The first training session will be held Friday, Jan. 18, at 3 p.m. with a second session available on Monday, Jan. 21, at 1 p.m.

The count will take place Monday, Jan. 28, with meals being ready to pick up beginning at 5 p.m. The survey is not expected to take more than one hour; however, volunteer teams may spend as long as they would like with those they meet.

To volunteer or find more information, call the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter at 770-607-0610 or email Mitcham at director@goodneighborshelter.org.