Washtenaw County taking census of homeless as part of nationwide count
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Washtenaw County is joining more than 3,000 communities across the United States this month in participating in a national effort to measure the scale of homelessness.
Julie Steiner, executive director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, said the community's homeless "point-in-time" count will take place Tuesday, Jan. 29.
Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com file photo
"This is an incredibly important day for our community," Steiner said. "Once every two years, we stop most of the business as usual to try to get a more accurate handle on who is experiencing homelessness in our area. The point-in-time count gives us the opportunity to look at what is happening at a global level and compare it to our efforts to assist those experiencing homelessness."
This year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has requested that special attention be given to unaccompanied youths under the age of 18. As a result, the WHA is working more closely with Ozone House, the community's premier organization for runaway and homeless youths. The agency will be assisting with peer-led street outreach efforts.
"It's hard to believe that young people in our county are homeless, but we know they are," said Colleen O'Brien, Ozone House's youth development director.
During Tuesday's count, teams of people, coordinated by the Washtenaw County Project Outreach Team (PORT) and the WHA, will start the day at 7:30 a.m. at the St. Andrews breakfast program and then fan out around the county to various locations to interview people.John Stacy, coordinator for PORT, said his staff works with people living on the street every day of the year.
"We appreciate this effort to ensure that we compile a good base of information about who is out there so that we can also focus our efforts and to bring attention to their needs," he said.
Other agencies providing staff to assist with the outreach effort include the Shelter Association, Michigan Ability Partners, Home of New Vision, the Homeless Veterans Program of the VA Medical Center, the Ann Arbor Police Department and the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office.
All shelter programs, transitional housing programs and Housing Access for Washtenaw County (the single point of entry for housing crises in the county), will be completing surveys with their participants, and the results will be include in a report expected to be released in April.
Steiner said the last count in 2011 identified 714 individuals who were living in a shelter or place not meant for human habitation; 160 of those were children and 15 were unaccompanied youth.
"For a community like Washtenaw County, we take this as an alarm to action," she said. "Since that time, we have developed a single point of access for people with a housing crisis and focused our resources more towards homelessness prevention and rapidly re-housing those who become homeless. I hope in 2013 we see our numbers decrease."