The numbers are in: Blount has at least 373 homeless; survey also documents 15 are veterans
By Melanie Tucker | (email@example.com)
Volunteers like Maryville College student Chris Hickman and Blount County resident Kimberly Naujock-Hargrove took to the all-night laundromats, parking lots and greenway system here Thursday in search of our homeless population — working to put a number on that invisible population so permanent solutions can be found to house them.
They and many others in Blount County were participating in the annual Point-in-Time Count that’s required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD takes those homeless numbers and uses them to disperse federal funds to communities in search of help to solve the problem.
At the end of the day, Blount County had its number: 373.
That number of homeless people includes 165 males and 175 females. It includes nine individuals who were under 18 and eight who are ages 18-24. It also includes 15 veterans. Of that 373, 47 were counted as having a mental illness and 39 had substance abuse issues.
The numbers HUD pays close attention to are the sheltered and unsheltered populations. On Thursday, there were 90 homeless people fortunate enough to be housed in shelters like Family Promise or Heaven Sent Home. Also included in that number were the people who were staying in a hotel whose bill was paid by someone else, like a church.
The number of unsheltered, counted in that 24-hour period dictated by HUD, was 73. That reflects the people sleeping in their cars, in parks, under bridges or abandoned buildings — places not meant for human habitation.
Hickman, a junior at MC, was on a team that went out to 24-hour laundromats across the county. He said they were able to document at least four homeless people using them as overnight shelter from talking to one laundromat manager. Hickman’s team also scoured parking lots and came across three individuals sleeping in their cars.
This was Hickman’s first time counting the homeless. He was taking a January Term class at MC called Action to Advocacy and instructor Preston Fields volunteered the students for the assignment.
“We just wanted to do the most accurate count possible,” Hickman said. “I came away with a new understanding of the homeless situation. Anyone can really run into hard times and be without a place to stay and it’s not all their fault.”
A hard task
Naujock-Hargrove was out on Thursday checking public parks and boat docks. She said she didn’t come upon any homeless people. She was equipped with packets of personal care products, sleeping mats and even extra coats should anyone be located.
“In one way we were glad not to have come across anyone,” Naujock-Hargrove said. That hopefully meant there were warmer places to be. “On the other hand, we are sorry if we missed someone because we missed a chance to help them.”
Wendy Wand, of United Way of Blount County, spearheaded this PIT count. She had these teams arrive at the United Way at 4:30 a.m. to begin their search of a population that is hard to find, especially when you have 24 hours to find them all.
There were also volunteers at the United Way office to take calls from people who were letting others stay with them because they had no place of their own. They were counted as part of our precariously housed population. That number was put at 210.
Wand said the volunteers this year took a more proactive approach in calling churches and schools. When the phones weren’t ringing on their end, the volunteers made their own calls to collect as much data as they could.
Fields said lessons were learned from 2012 that were put into practice during the PIT on Thursday. There weren’t as many people calling in this year to report they are temporarily housing the homeless. Next year there might be some billboards available to advertise the upcoming count, Fields said.
Needing help now
There were even ways Wand and the others could give immediate help. They found out about a woman who opens her home to the homeless who needed a washer and dryer. Calls were made and she now has them. A man had requested some firewood for warmth. He was helped as well.
Because of the PIT numbers last year, grants were received here to help our homeless veteran population, Wand said. There were 15 veterans counted Thursday. They were to meet with a representative from the Tennessee Valley Coalition to End Homelessness to get immediate help.
It is still surprising to some that Blount County has at least 373 homeless people. The total last year was 390.
Wand said there is one other shocker. “There are 181 chronically homeless people living in Blount County,” she explained. Those are people who have been homeless for a year or more or who have been homeless at least four times in the last three years. A cycle that’s often hard to break.
Now that the count is over, what’s the next step?
Wand said the TVCEH will be reporting the numbers to HUD to hopefully get money for programs that will help the homeless. United Way of Blount County will also be looking at the data to see what it needs to do in our community.
“As we get better at the count and understand the need, we can work toward a solution,” Wand said. “We have services for families and a good domestic violence program but not anything for single men or young people. It will be nice to start working toward solving that.”