State and federal agencies require a yearly homeless count. Hundreds of communities across the country conduct the survey on one night in January. Lane County's 'Point in Time Snapshot' was yesterday (Wednesday). One happy side effect of the count is the humanizing interactions it facilitates.
More than 100 volunteers fanned out over a 12-hour period with questionnaires and bus passes. They visited known camping and resting spots all over the county. Pearl Wolfe organizes the Count for Lane County Human Services. She says census takers often hear stories on the street and come back changed:
Wolfe: “And you know that it so can happen to anyone. It demystifies it in a big way and it makes it more human and more approachable.”
Annie Bridge works at the Egan warming centers but hadn't spent much time one-on-one with the homeless. She returned from Springfield a bit choked up:
Bridge: “One guy that's been on the street for 40 years, and of course everything he has is attached to his cart. And it's 'Do you have any Family?' 'No.' 'Does anybody know you?' What do you do? He camps by himself. Those kind of things, you take it home.”
Volunteer Judith Hankin found people were eager to tell their stories. She thought the attention alone was a positive experience for them:
Hankin: “To have somebody curious about them and to have that interaction was really actually welcomed.”
Reporter: “So you saw that they wanted to talk just because people don't often show an interest?”
Hankin: “I think so yeah. Uh huh. Yes.”
The volunteers' surveys will be tallied along with numbers from temporary shelters. The estimates are used by the federal government to inform legislation and funding. Last year, volunteers counted 1,451 homeless in Lane County. The report won't be finalized for a few months.