HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Hattiesburg homeless advocates are conducting their annual Point in Time Count this week to gather the number of homeless persons living in the Pine Belt.
"Every year across the country, the Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD requires communities to count the homeless in their communities who are both sheltered, so kind of in transitional housing or shelters, as well as the unsheltered, so those who are on the streets or under bridges," said Amy Ricedorf, co-chair for the Pine Belt Coalition on Homelessness. "The biggest piece of that is that it gets an accurate count of who are the homeless in our community that need our help really first of all. And then secondly, it helps us get funding for programs that help them get that help."
Maxine Coleman, city of Hattiesburg Neighborhood Services Coordinator, said, "HUD requires every year that we come and count the homeless people in each city, and the dollars that come into each city to the service providers, it is determined by our count. So that's why we try to get out and an get an accurate count. If there are services that people need, we have the dollars there, so they can address those needs."
Nationally in 2015, HUD "found an overall 11 percent decrease and 26 percent drop in the unsheltered homeless population since 2010," and "between 2010 and January 2015, veteran homelessness declined 36 percent, family homelessness declined 19 percent, and chronic homelessness declined 22 percent."
Ricedorf said HUD schedules the Point in Time Count during the last week of January because homeless persons are often seeking services and shelter from the cold, and that helps give a more accurate number.
"Last year in 2015 when we did this count there were 809 people in Mississippi that were counted," she said. "In the Pine Belt Coalition, it was 188, and then specifically in Forrest County, we counted 126 people who were homeless. Again, that's the sheltered and the unsheltered, so this year it'll be neat to see where those numbers are going. Hopefully they're decreasing, and we're seeing that the programs that are out there are helping folks get moved into housing."
Ricedorf said they have some volunteers who go to encampments and other known homeless living areas to find them, but said volunteers are stationed at places like Christian Services and Fieldhouse for the Homeless because the homeless, like Santana Davenport, are already going to those places for services.
"I'm trying to get help in my predicament," Davenport said. "This is like my family. I joke and kid with them everyday. I enjoy it everyday. Some of these people that's here (sic), come from halfway houses and seeking help from drug abuses (and) domestic violence. Some of these women come up here; I've seen bruises. I've had bruises around my neck. I've done (sic) been choked."
Ricedorf said putting a face on homelessness with the point in time count is essential to keep needed programs running.
"It brings the money to our state to keep those programs funded," she said. "I work for a program that works specifically with veterans, and when I can have statistics that show that this population still exists, that's how our programs keep getting that money to ultimately help them."