It’s a plight many of us can only imagine. For some it’s a dreadful reality.
And the burden of being homeless likely is amplified at this time of year, when temperatures fall below zero and snow and wind wreak havoc.
On Wednesday night, staff and volunteers from homeless shelters and community organizations will play a role in helping the homeless. They’ll take to the streets to conduct a count of homeless people in Eau Claire, Buffalo, Jackson and Trempealeau counties.
“Known nationally as the Point-In-Time count,” reads a news release from the Western Dairyland Economic Opportunity Council, the activity is intended to provide a statistically reliable, unduplicated count of people experiencing homelessness during a designated one-night period.”
Organizations that will be represented include Western Dairyland, Family Promise of the Chippewa Valley, Catholic Charities, JONAH and Lutheran Social Services. Information collected will be given to Congress and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and included in state and national reports.
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Last year’s count found 4,538 homeless adults and children in Wisconsin. More than 8% of them — or 373 — were found in an 11-county swath of western Wisconsin. Three percent of students in Eau Claire, 334 children, were deemed homeless in the last school year.
The gravity of the issue is unquestionable.
“It could happen to any of us,” Joseph Volk, executive director of the nonprofit Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness, told the Wisconsin State Journal recently, adding that many people are a job loss, medical emergency or car repair bill away from losing housing. “We should not have people in our midst living in cars and tent cities. It’s just morally wrong.”
In response to the issue, the Wisconsin Interagency Council on Homelessness was created by legislation that unanimously passed through the state Assembly and Senate. It held its first meeting in February 2018.
Such efforts, and those undertaken locally, should be applauded. For those seeking to join the local effort, volunteers are being sought for Wednesday’s survey. Participants, who do not need any special qualifications, will report at 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday and be given a 30-minute presentation as training.
“There they will be assigned to a group with at least two other people, usually one of those three will have previous experience with the Point-In-Time,” said Nathan Dougherty, housing outreach worker with Western Dairyland. “Each group has a designated area of the city that they will monitor throughout the night looking for any unsheltered individuals or families experiencing homelessness.
“If a group does encounter somebody, they are shown how to initiate a quick survey to conduct with that person.”
Dougherty can attest to the rewards of participating, having taken part in a survey in July.
“It was a really fun night where I got to meet and talk to new people in the volunteer group I was assigned to,” he said. “Although our area of the city did not turn up anybody who was homeless, other areas did and I know that this count is very beneficial for homeless agencies so we can have an idea of how many people are out there that we may be missing or are falling through the cracks.”
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor