Volunteers needed to help with homeless count

The word "homeless" does not always mean living on the streets or in a homeless shelter.

People might be considered homeless if they're living temporarily with friends or relatives.

People might be considered homeless if they have a place to live, but it lacks the way to cook hot food or doesn't have drinking water, a heat source, a restroom or place to bathe.

But people who aren't on the streets, under bridges, in shelters or the typical places associated with the homeless can be difficult to count -- and it's important to count them because that's how Benton and Franklin counties get the grants that help the homeless into warm, safe places to sleep, according to the Benton-Franklin Community Action Committee.

The committee leads the effort to count the number of homeless people in the bicounty area each January, relying on volunteers to march out into the winter chill to find and survey people who meet federal definitions for homelessness.

People who are surveyed continually have been homeless for one year or have experienced four episodes of homelessness within the past three years.

The 2011 count is Jan. 27, and the agency is recruiting volunteers now to help with the count.

Volunteers go through an orientation and training, then are stationed at one of any number of locations throughout the two counties.

Counts are done at food banks, the Union Gospel Mission shelter, community centers, libraries, motels -- anywhere homeless people might be found.

And the agency found in 2010 the number of homeless in the two counties was on the rise after having decreased for several years.

The 2010 count identified 433 homeless individuals, compared with 381 in 2009 -- a 14 percent increase.

Of those counted as homeless, 136 had spent the night in an emergency shelter, 236 were in some kind of transitional housing, 17 lived outside, 39 lived in vehicles and five in buildings considered unfit for habitation.

Another 448 people were identified as being at-risk for becoming homeless, up from 410 in 2009, or a 9 percent increase.

The survey helps CAC plan services and housing for homeless individuals, and to identify the type of help they need. The ultimate goal is to end homelessness in Benton and Franklin counties.

To volunteer for the count, call Ronda Jayne at 509-545-4042 or e-mail rjayne@bfcac.org.

-- Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com