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Organizers prep for homeless count

Upcoming effort could surprise

POSTED: January 12, 2013 12:04 a.m.
 

With its low unemployment rate and affluence, Forsyth County isn’t often thought of as a county where the homeless reside.

However, there are people in the county without a home and area nonprofit leaders are hoping to get an accurate count of them later this month.

For the first time, Forsyth County will participate in a statewide homeless count from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, said Melissa Corliss, director of community impact with the local United Way.

“We’ve conducted several community conversations on homelessness and so we have sort of a core group of concerned volunteers and members of nonprofits who have been working and discussing the issues of homelessness for a quite a while now,” she said.

“When we saw that the 2013 count was coming up, we thought this was something we needed to get involved in because it will give us a better understanding of the scope of the homeless problem on a local and … state level.”

According to both Corliss and Gene DeBerardinis, a volunteer helping organize the count, many in the community may be surprised to learn how many homeless are here.

“I think most everybody probably thinks we do have some homeless somewhere, but I think the number of people and what the local charity groups are doing right now, I think a lot of people would be surprised by that,” DeBerardinis said.

Added Corliss: “[The count] will be beneficial to anyone that works with basic needs and assisting those folks who are in need just to plan for the future, and it’ll help our community see what our real needs are in that respect.”

The term “homeless” can bring to mind a specific image, which many times isn’t correct. Corliss said homeless can include people who live in emergency shelters or transitional housing, such as long-term hotel stays or with family members or friends.

The homeless can also be those who have just been evicted or who live in their cars, tents or under structures such as bridges.

DeBerardinis noted that “there are also those who have mental or medical conditions.”

“Their families have done everything they can and they can’t do any more and now they’re out on the street,” he said. “And then, frankly, there are those that have chosen the lifestyle ... They don’t want to work or can’t work and just live wherever they can find.”

The upcoming count also will help the county as it applies for state and federal level funding programs, and will be useful to nonprofits that serve those in need.

DeBerardinis said the effort will function similarly to the U.S. Census, with volunteers going into areas where the homeless may be to help them fill out a survey.

At least 50 volunteers are needed.

“If somebody is available, we’d certainly like to get them involved,” he said.

Anyone interested in serving as a volunteer should call (678) 316-3223 or (770) 781-4110.

According to DeBerardinis, organizers want to get the word out about the count to recruit those volunteers, but also to let the homeless in the area know of the effort.

“Many of them are up to speed on what’s going on, they’ve just had a run of bad luck,” he said. “By them knowing and having access to the effort, it will also help us in assuring we get an accurate count.”

DeBerardinis said the homeless are encouraged to call (770) 887-1121 to complete the survey and be included in the count.

Corliss stressed that by calling the number, homeless will just be included in the count; it’s not a source to call for assistance.

However, volunteers answering the phones will be able to point those in need to organizations that can help them.

 

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