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Sunday, January 29, 2012

come out, come out & be counted

Authorities, volunteers count area's homeless population

Results will be used to provide assistance

11:33 PM, Jan. 26, 2012 |
Volunteers Kim Parker and Amy Jones talk to a homeless man known as Cave Man Thursday while collecting information for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about people who are homeless. / JACOB MOORE/The Jackson Sun

HUD requires that cities that receive funding from them conduct an annual point-in-time count the last week of January, to determine how many homeless people live in their city. They use that data to help them determine how much money various locations need to receive as they attempt to get people housed. Not everyone counted wants to be housed, and not everyone that desires independent housing gets counted. Read the article above here, if desired.

When they first announced this count in Jackson, they said we were going to ride around in cars and count how many people we saw. If we did not know how many people lived in 1 spot, count "1" unless we saw toys, in which we'd count "2" to acknowledge there being a family present. We would not be getting out of the car to engage in conversation or complete surveys (as they do in Memphis). When the time arrived on Thursday, my first stop involved getting out of the car, walking through mudpaths and up hills in the woods, to arrive at Caveman's rockin' tent. no getting out? Dag. I really need some rain boots. I was not expecting that or the media accompaniment we had. I never heard them ask Caveman for permission to film or photograph him. We were at his place that night. I found that rude.

The night continued to see me slush through woods looking for people. Very few were found in my designated area. I know of one other group with similar results and one group that found lots of people in places "unfit for human habitation" (missing roofs, windows, utilities, holes in the structure, etc.). Caveman is friends with a veteran and promised to pass my information on to him. I hope he does. As of today, he has not left a message or made contact with me. Maybe next week, I will go to his place to see if he is home.

There were 3 of us riding in a police car. Thus, one person had to sit in the back seat. That lucky person was me. The seats are hard, plastic bucket seats, a great contrast from the plush seating up front. It's narrower than the space given in the backseat of a typical car, unless you're comparing it to a Celica or something. Every bump is felt. In the beginning, I felt like I was being thrown around in the back and my body moved with every turn the officer took. I wondered, could they possibly feel this trip the same way up front? There was a thick, surely bullet proof plastic divider between the front and back. I could see hand motions and hear mumblings but could not hear to engage in their conversation or even tell you what they were talking about. It made think about the saying that children should be seen, not heard. It occurred to me that sitting back there was dehumanizing. I thought about how much worse it must be for someone picked up for committing some crime-- the harsh words, the disregard for how they feel back there, the rough handling.... Officer Chilcote seemed really kind. I got that from the way he spoke of and to those who are homeless. A few minutes into the drive, he though about me and opened a window that plastic divider has so that I would feel less like a prisoner. I discovered that he and Kim are actually soft spoken. Even with the window opened, I couldn't hear what she was saying. lol.

Each year that I do this count, I always learn something new about locating people without housing "in the wild". Before, I learned to focus on bridges and that displaced trash near dumpsters was a good sign that they hung out in that area. This year, I learned to peer deep into the woods and search for tents. Trash, grocery store buggies, clothes lines and other signs of life are a sign that someone lives in the area where those items are present. Caveman's tent looked much like a 1 bedroom apartment. He even has an enclosed porch! My house is more comfortable that his tent, even with its full-size mattress, but his efforts to make his tent "home" are stunning.

I rode with Officer Chilcote (Jackson PD) and Kim Parker (Pathways). We discussed various places we've heard of people living and checked other wooded area in our district. The organizers said they would provide a listing of where folks were living during the count last year to help us locate people. That, sadly, didn't happen. We looked for 2 hours and found 2 people during that time. I do look forward to hearing the end result (# located) from the group's efforts
at large.

The local news led with this count. I can't see Memphis' news ever doing that :o.

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