Homeless numbers sought

Stokes Homeless Outreach will be among several agencies attempting to get a more definitive answer to just how widespread homelessness is in the region, with a count of homeless individuals set for Wednesday evening.

This ‘Point in Time’ count is being conducted with human services and non-profit agencies in Stokes, Surry, Yadkin, Davie and Iredell counties.

Information provided by the count is required of ‘continuing of care’ agencies in efforts to seek funding. An accurate count helps to secure the maximum amount of available funding.

Founded in the summer of 2017, the Stokes Homeless Outreach (SHO) began as an initiative to bring more shelters and awareness to the area.

“An important part of this process is having a clear understanding of how widespread homelessness is within the county, and identifying the number of individuals who may be in need,” said Kanci McKnight, a member of SHO. “Nationally, point in time counts began in 2005 as a way to establish the dimensions of the problem of homelessness and help policy makers and program administrators track the progress of their initiatives.”

Cardinal Innovations has led these counts in other parts of the state, through which several agencies work together to conduct an annual count. Rahim Skinner, Stokes County Community Engagement specialist, recently became chair of SHO, and is facilitating the count on January 31.

Just as it takes collaboration and partnership to solve the problem of homelessness, it takes many agencies and individuals to conduct the count, McKnight said.

On Wednesday, from 9 p.m. until 3 a.m. McKnight and a group of volunteers will go into the community to get a better understanding of how many are homeless in Stokes. The group will distribute hot meals, courtesy of John Brown’s Grill in King, along with toiletries, blankets and other essentials.

“We physically go into the streets, under bridges, behind stores and count unsheltered people. This assists with funding and the availability of resources that HUD provides. Making sure we get as accurate a count as possible is pertinent to proving crucial resources and programs for this demographic.”

Last year’s count totaled 85 homeless individuals in Stokes, Surry, and Yadkin, 43 percent of which were on the street, 46 percent of whom were staying in emergency shelter and 11 percent in transitional housing. In 2017, 19 individuals were found to be homeless in Stokes County.

“Often homelessness is a by-product of other fundamental issues, including, but not limited to, untreated behavioral health issues, domestic violence, physical health issues and/or financial issues,” said Mary Boyles, executive director of The Shepherd’s House in Mount Airy.

The first step is identifying the depth of the need, and from there, working together to connect homeless individuals to the right services and supports to help them transition from homelessness.

Whereas the number of people housed in shelters and transitional housing is easily identifiable, the on the street portion can be a little trickier to count.

Boyles said that she gets tips from the sheriff’s department, the police and from Emergency Medical Services.

An increasing phenomenon is people living in campers with no electricity and no water, which qualifies also as homeless due to substandard living conditions.

“But what you’ve learned and what you’ve heard by working in a homeless shelter is the best source of information,” said Boyles. “I recently saw my first homeless camp: three tents made out of tarps and rope. I never would have thought something like that existed in Surry County.”

The Shepherd’s House received backpacks filled with necessities from the Volunteer Center of Greensboro and plan to share them with other non-profits in the region as an incentive to encourage individuals to come forward and be counted.