True numbers of homeless sought for area

Published 12:10 am Sunday, January 26, 2014

NATCHEZ — This week, a transient U.S. veteran drifted through southwest Mississippi on his way back to Texas, where he had a job waiting at a dude ranch.

The cold weather hit hard, though, and Miss-Lou Veteran’s Village Coordinator Kenny Rushing said the veteran had to check into a hotel room, which ate into his cash reserves. By the time he got to Natchez, he was stranded with no cash and a Meadville church had to pay for him to stay in a Natchez hotel because the area doesn’t have a homeless shelter.

Saturday afternoon, with the weather a little warmer, the veteran moved on.

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Monday, a coalition formed by the WIN Job Center, Copiah-Lincoln Community College, the Miss-Lou Veteran’s Villiage and Mississippians United To End Homelessness will try to get a better picture of how many people like that veteran are drifting through the area, as well as those who are homeless but permanently here.

They’ll also assess those who are at risk for homelessness.

The effort is called a Point In Time count. Rushing said the idea is to get a more accurate census of homeless people in the area, numbers that could be used to apply for funding for homeless resources from private and government programs.

“The last count only had 18 people, and we know it’s more than that,” Rushing said. “Better numbers mean better funding, and better funding could mean that this area could have a homeless shelter, somewhere someone could check in at 4 p.m. and check out again at 8 a.m. the next morning instead of hoping someone can put them up in a hotel room.”

The PIT count is going to be done in two ways. Several groups of volunteers are going to canvas areas in which homeless people are known to congregate, while others are going to be at locations where those who want to self-identify as homeless can make their presence known.

Those who identify as homeless will be given a confidential survey that will not be used against them, Rushing said, and the teams will distribute small hygiene care packages to those who might need them.

At the same time, Co-Lin Natchez Campus’s Assistant Dean of Career Technical and Workforce Education Erin Delaney will be manning a command center where those who want to self-identify as homeless or who know of someone who is homeless can call in and let the team know where they are.

Between the canvassers, static locations and command center, Delaney said she has high hopes for better census than in the past.

“We met last week with the director for MUETH, and he told us that with all of the different strategic locations we have set out, he has a good feeling we will have some good numbers this year,” she said.

For the purposes of the county, the PIT group will be using the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homelessness, which Rushing said excludes those who might be sleeping on the couches of friends and relatives.

“We are going to go ahead and take those people who are at-risk for homelessness, but they won’t be included in the official PIT count,” Rushing said.

During the count, which will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Delaney can be reached at 601-446-1168.

The locations where volunteers will be stationed include:

• Natchez Community Hospital.

• Natchez Regional Medical Center.

• Go Mart on U.S. 61 South.

• Goodwill on U.S. 61 North.

• Natchez Veterans Affairs.

• AJFC-Community Action Center on North Union Street.

• The Stewpot.

• The Adams County Veteran’s Service Office in the city council chambers on Pearl Street.

• Kaiser Mobil Mart on U.S. 61 North.

• WIN Job Center.

• Catholic Charities on South Union Street.