County con­duct­ing home­less count

The Covington News - - Front page - By Gabriel Khouli gkhouli@cov­news.com

Home­less­ness has in­creased in Ge­or­gia each year since the eco­nomic re­ces­sion first struck, but for the first time Newton County will at­tempt to quan­tify the prob­lem lo­cally.

Newton County will con­duct a home­less count Jan. 24-28 to help lo­cal and state of­fi­cials im­prove ef­forts to aid the home­less and pre­vent home­less­ness. The count is be­ing con­ducted statewide and re­sults will be com­piled by the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Com­mu­nity Af­fairs. Based on a pre­vi­ous es­ti­mate, Newton County had 99 home­less res­i­dents in 2009.

“I think a lot of peo­ple will be sur­prised and shocked when the num­bers come out. This is not just a big city thing, we have a lot of home­less here in Cov­ing­ton,” said Cov­ing­ton Se­nior Plan­ner Scott Gaither, who is lead­ing the lo­cal count.

He said the re­sults could aid non-prof­its who help the home­less re­ceive state and fed­eral fund­ing.

The counts will be taken at the Gar­den of Geth­se­mane home­less shel­ter and the Will­ing Helpers Food Pantry at Solid Rock Bap­tist Church, among other lo­ca­tions. Counts may also be taken at the Newton County De­ten­tion Cen­ter and Newton Med­i­cal Cen­ter emer­gency room. Of­fi­cials and vol­un­teers will con­duct a sim­ple, anony­mous sur­vey, ask­ing peo­ple where they spent the night of Jan. 23. The sur­vey should not take more than 10 min­utes to com­plete, Gaither said. If re­spon­dents do not feel com­fort­able an­swer­ing ques­tions, they can fill out the sur­vey them­selves.

Gaither needs vol­un­teers to as­sist in con­duct­ing the sur­vey. He will train vol­un­teers on how to con­duct the sur­vey at a Jan. 18 ses­sion. E-mail Gaither at sgaither@city­of­cov­ing­ton.org or call (770) 385-2178 for more.

Gaither, Cov­ing­ton code en­force­ment of­fi­cers and pub­lic safety of­fi­cers will go to lo­ca­tions where home­less gather, in­clud­ing the rail­road tracks over Al­covy Road, near Fac­tory Shoals Park and the woods be­hind

Food De­pot and Clark’s Grove.

“We’re go­ing to try to go out and gain their con­fi­dence so they’ll al­low us to ask them some ques­tions,” said Gaither, who learned of the spots from the Rev. Clara Lett, di­rec­tor of the home­less shel­ter. “We’re not ask­ing (vol­un­teers) to go out one on one. Safety will be a top pri­or­ity.”

Gaither said he wished the sur­vey con­duc­tors could have given out gift pack­ages, but he wasn’t able to get them to­gether. Any busi­nesses able to do­nate ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties can con­tact Gaither.

Based on sta­tis­ti­cal mod­els, Newton County was es­ti­mated to have 99 un­shel­tered home­less peo­ple in 2009 and 49 un­shel­tered home­less in 2008, said Lind­sey Still­man, plan­ning co­or­di­na­tor for the State Hous­ing Trust Fund for the Home­less. The sur­veys will be sent to Ken­ne­saw State Uni­ver­sity, where they will be pro­cessed to get a statewide count.

Ge­or­gia had an es­ti­mated to­tal of 8,994 home­less peo­ple stay­ing in var­i­ous tem­po­rary shel­ters and 12,101 un­shel­tered home­less peo­ple in 2009, ac­cord­ing to a re­port.

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