Calling the experience "eye-opening," Brad Cowart is encouraging area residents to take part in Bartow's Point in Time Homeless Count. A former Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter board member, the Cartersville resident will lead a team during the Jan. 28 outreach.
"I became involved the very first year that the shelter conducted the count and have been involved every year since," Cowart said. "I [felt] led to support this effort because I believe it's important to get a better understanding of what the unsheltered population in Bartow is in need of and what we as a community can do to assist them.
"By participating in the previous counts, I can truly say that it is an eye-opening experience. Some of the homeless population are homeless because of poor life choices. Some others are because of things beyond their control. It really could happen to any of us. We have found children that were homeless and have been able to get them the help they need. If it weren't for the counts, we would've never known. It's a great way for the general population to go out in a safe way, deliver a warm meal and much needed supplies."
To participate in the Homeless Count, volunteers need to take a complimentary training class at the host agency, Good Neighbor —110 Porter St. in Cartersville — Tuesday at 3 p.m. or Jan. 18 at noon.
"The training will focus primarily on the [digital] survey tool, so when volunteers [go] out on the 28th, they know how to use the app and are familiar with the questions,” said Jessica Mitcham, executive director for Good Neighbor. “The questions in the survey are designed to help our state partners find out what the needs are of those who are living unsheltered; if they are … able to access services they need; and how services might be tailored in the future to meet the real needs of those who are unsheltered. Anyone in our community interested in outreach to the homeless is welcome to come volunteer and participate.
"Our goal is to have 40 [to] 50 volunteers who will go out on the 28th in teams of four [to] five. The teams will be carrying supplies out to people — hot meals, bottled water, wood or small propane tanks to be used for heating. Every team will have at least one person [familiar] with the app who can help complete surveys with anyone they find living unsheltered."
Partnering with Kennesaw State University’s Burruss Institute, Georgia Department of Community Affairs will release the statewide surveys' results around April, Mitcham said.
"The 2018 [Homeless] Count identified 20 people living literally unsheltered in Bartow," she said. "We believe that number is really more like 40 [to] 50 but it can be very difficult to find them, as many are nervous to be identified or to let anyone know where they really live.
"In November of 2017, we started an outreach program year-round that was still very new when we completed the 2018 count. But now, the program has been operating for 14 months, and we have a much better handle on where people are living unsheltered in our community. We have built relationships with many of them and even been able to get many of them housed."
To sign up to attend one of the Homeless Count’s training sessions, call 770-607-0610. On Jan. 28, volunteers will meet at Sam Jones Memorial United Methodist Church at 4:30 p.m., then travel to various points in the county.
"I believe that the more the public is educated, the more they will be willing to help," Cowart said. "Giving someone money at the stop sign may be a short term fix, however, they need so much more. I believe the training will help anyone feel more comfortable about what is expected the night of the count. It's very simple and both classes are the same, so they should only plan to attend one of the classes. If they can't make the classes, they can still show up for the count, and we will place them with someone who has attended.
"The homeless communities seem to be multiplying each year. So please plan to come out and help us. The more volunteers we have, the quicker the count will go. I would like to thank everyone for their consideration in helping us."