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What organizer expects to find once Hall homeless count is conducted
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Anita Ojeda, left, and Brandee Thomas attend training Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, for volunteers and agencies helping to conduct the homeless count in Gainesville-Hall. Thomas is executive director of My Sister's Place and Ojeda is with Avita Community Partners. - photo by Scott Rogers

Statewide organizers of the 2022 homeless count have delayed it by a month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Michael Fisher, who heads the Hall County count, said he believes it might be more than double what the last homeless county tallied.

The point-in-time homeless count is an effort performed every other year to assess the state of homelessness in Georgia communities.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs, which organizes the count and releases the results in a report, canceled the 2021 count due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2019 report listed 149 homeless in Hall County with 137 beds available.

After a call with statewide organizers Friday, Jan. 14, Fisher said the count would be delayed from Jan. 24 to another date toward the end of February.

“They felt for the safety of the participants, volunteers and coordinators that it’s best that we not do it,” said Fisher, who is also the housing/program planner for Ninth District Opportunity. “They think that the peak of this omicron (variant) is supposed to happen through the end of January.”

Northeast Georgia Health System reported 341 COVID-positive patients across its hospitals Monday, Jan. 17, with 203 of those patients at the Gainesville hospital.

Monday’s count of COVID-positive patients surpassed the last peak in September of 333 COVID-positive patients and is close to NGHS’ highest count of 355 COVID-positive patients in January 2021.

Fisher said he believes the month-long delay will give them more time to prepare and make sure everyone gets counted.

At the end of the summer, Fisher said he would have one or two homeless people find him each week without food, extra clothes, money or a place to stay.

“Towards the fall, I was getting two to three a day of the same characteristics, and since the winter has really kicked in just before Christmas, I’m getting five to seven a day,” Fisher said.

Before this past weekend’s winter storm, Fisher and other volunteers were working to hand out tarps, hats, gloves and other warm clothes.

As far as his prediction for the count, Fisher said it will be “substantially higher.”

“I think it would be safe to say that it will be double what it was last time,” said Fisher, with an estimate between 300-400.

Agencies that have helped the homeless have been stretched to their limits.

Andre Pereira of the Salvation Army said the shelter has been full every night for at least the past six months. The shelter has more than 40 beds, which are divided between men, women and families.

“Not having enough housing in Hall County has definitely made it a bigger problem for homelessness,” Pereira said.

In the past few weeks, Pereira said they have had to turn away more people, though he didn’t have specific numbers to cite Monday, Jan. 17.