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Homeless spotlight growing

NATCHEZ — When trying to take a census of homeless people in the Miss-Lou last year, the final count came only to 18.

Kenny Rushing knows the area isn’t going to have as high a population of homeless people as a major metropolitan area, but he said that count is too low.

“We know those numbers are much higher, they just need to be counted,” Rushing said.

“They talked to a few people at the Stewpot and did a count at the Guardian Shelter, but not a lot of outreach was done in the community. In Wilkinson County, zero were counted, and in Jefferson County, only two were.”

Rushing, the coordinator for the Miss-Lou Veteran’s Village, is tying to form 10 teams of 10 people each to help get an accurate count of the homeless population in the area for the Point-in-Time count on Jan. 27.

The Point-in-Time Count takes count of how many homeless people are in an area, information that can in turn be used when state and charitable organizations look for funding.

The teams Rushing and others are looking to form will locate places homeless people congregate or form camps.

“We want to have that information ahead of time so we will know where to go and do these counts,” he said.

While Rushing’s work often focuses on alleviating and preventing homelessness among U.S. veterans, this count is to include everyone.

Adams County Veterans Service Officer Vivian Toussaint said the counters need to know fair and foul weather spots where homeless people congregate.

“If the weather gets cold, they will try to find somewhere — maybe an abandoned house — to stay in,” she said.

While preparing for the count, the different public entities involved were able to identify one multi-person camp in Natchez, and Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield and two investigators went there with sleeping bags, mats and tents donated by local businesses during a recent cold spell.

“A couple of them were living in lean-tos,” Mayfield said. “One of them had a decent tent, a nylon tent, but a couple of them just had a tarp cover over a sleeping bag, and that was pretty much it.”

But while transient camps are an obvious starting point, Rushing said he’s also looking for those who may be sleeping in their cars or simply moving from couch to couch at acquaintances’ houses.

“We just want to make sure people knew there are people in the community who are in need, and if they find anybody in town who is homeless or in danger of being homeless, we want to know,” he said. “It all starts with asking the simple questions, like where did you sleep last night? Did you sleep in your car?”

Rushing said a similar count would take place in Concordia Parish.

Volunteers who want to help with the count will have to be trained and certified first. Rushing said the certification includes watching training videos and completing a survey. For more information about how to get involved, contact Rushing at 601-431-2223 or 601-442-0243 or Erin Delaney at 601-446-1168.