Archive for Thursday, January 22, 2009

County to participate in homeless count

January 22, 2009

United Way and Leavenworth County are teaming up to help the homeless.

On Jan. 28, volunteers for United Way will conduct a census called a Point-In-Time Homeless Count to determine how many people are homeless in Leavenworth County and what the county can do to better serve these people.

According to a United Way news release, such homeless counts are required for counties that receive Housing and Urban Development funding. The counts are one tool to measure the amount of funding each county will receive.

This is the first year that United Way of the Plains, headquartered in Wichita, has conducted a statewide Point-In-Time Count. It will involve 40 of the 150 counties in Kansas. The 40 counties are a sample based on population, rural and urban landscape and the estimated percentage of persons living in poverty.

Derald Linn, executive director of United Way of Leavenworth County, said this was the first homeless count he had seen for Leavenworth County.

“We’ve never done something like this that I know of,” Linn said. “It seems to me like it’s going to be an impossible task, but we’ll see how it turns out.”

Linn said he had discussed the process with United Way officials, who told him the event would be both easy and enjoyable, but he was not as optimistic. The most important thing, Linn said, would be the volunteers.

“I would like to see us get a minimum of 20 volunteers to help with it,” he said. “It would be far better if we had 30 or 35, but I hope to at least get 20.”

The count takes place in one day. Volunteers meet at a central location — Linn suggested the United Way office or Leavenworth City Hall — for food and refreshments, and they are split into teams of two people. Each team is assigned an area of the county. The volunteers then go to their designated areas and literally look for homeless people. They work in two shifts, the first running from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the second running from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Linn said the task would be difficult because Leavenworth did not have homeless shelters or soup kitchens, places where homeless persons usually gather. He said he planned to use the Red Cross, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and the SRS as resources to figure out where to look. Sheriff’s offices and police stations are other places Linn said he might rely on to help find homeless camps.

“I’ve also been instructed to look by railroad tracks,” Linn said. “I guess those are good places to look and to help you navigate.”

Finding people out during the day on Jan. 28 would be one thing, Linn said, but knowing if they were actually homeless would be an entirely different task.

“I’m not sure how we will approach people we suspect to be homeless,” he said. “It’s not like they’re wearing signs, and it’s not the easiest thing to ask.”

Once volunteers begin talking with someone who is admittedly homeless, they give the person a questionnaire to complete with questions ranging from how long he or she has been homeless to if he or she has a mental illness or HIV. The survey also asks which kind of service — emergency shelter, transitional housing, etc. — would be most beneficial to that person. People who complete the survey do not have to provide their full names, only their initials.

The questionnaire was something that Linn said was also worrisome. He said he wasn’t sure how willing people would be to complete the survey, considering the personal nature of some of the questions.

“I don’t want to upset anyone,” he said. “But it’s something to figure out where they are and what happened and how that person might be helped.”

Linn said he did not consider homelessness a large problem in Leavenworth County. He said he expected to find and speak to somewhere between 20 and 30 homeless persons.

“I’m not saying that there aren’t more people than that who don’t have homes, but I think that’s all we will find,” Linn said.

He also added that the reason he did not see homelessness as a problem in Leavenworth was because of the lack of homeless services in the county. The county’s proximity to Douglas and Wyandotte counties — two counties that do have shelters, organizations and kitchens to serve the homeless — makes Leavenworth a less likely place for homeless people to gather, Linn said.

Though uncertain of the census outcome, Linn said he was hoping the day would be a success.

“I don’t know what to expect, but if what we do helps someone down the line, I consider that a successful event,” he said.

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