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With homeless count canceled, advocates pledge 'to keep going’ to help less fortunate
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Mike Fisher, Ninth District Opportunity housing/program planner, speaks with people at a homeless encampment Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. With the biannual homeless count canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, Fisher and others are pushing forward with certain plans to help the homeless population of Gainesville. Provided by Mike Fisher

Knowing the biannual homeless count “was in jeopardy for a couple weeks,” Ninth District Opportunity housing/program planner Mike Fisher said he started working on Plan B: How to keep the issue of homelessness “and the plight of our needy here in the forefront of everything that we do.”

“The street outreach team for Ninth District and all of our partners, we’re going to keep going no matter what,” Fisher said.

Officials with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs announced last week that the 2021 point-in-time homeless count, which tries to identify what resources are needed for the sheltered and unsheltered populations around the state, was off due to COVID-19 concerns.

It was set to begin Monday, Jan. 25, and run through Feb. 7.

Fisher said the numbers have grown every time the count has been performed, with 149 homeless tallied in the 2019 count. Having the event in the winter, however, can lead to an undercount that Fisher estimated to be roughly half what the numbers should be.

Fisher said he had a mixed reaction to the cancelation, particularly after the lead-up work finding out where people are congregating to use their time effectively.

“We had already laid a lot of groundwork,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of preparation. We got a lot of volunteers in order. We felt like we really were in a position to get a very good and accurate count … but I understood the rationale.”

Fisher worked with the Georgia Mountain Food Bank and other groups Monday, Jan. 18, feeding the homeless as part of a service project to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

The effort Monday led to some 50 homeless people receiving food and supplies, and Fisher’s team also discovered three new encampments in the process.

Though they hope they will still get the resources they need, Fisher said they are pushing on with events focusing on the homeless community.

One such event will be held Tuesday, Jan. 26, at The Way on Bradford Street with food, medical providers and advocates for Medicare and disability.

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The Way ministries on Bradford Street in Gainesville serves breakfast and lunch to the area homeless. The ministry also helps with online job applications, birth certificates and personal state ID. - photo by Scott Rogers

Jonathan Riggs and Robin Lamb are partnering for a project called Clean Start aimed at helping the homeless stay clean and hygienic .

The project is a 26-foot box truck equipped with a water tank, a shower, a barber chair and a mirror.

“The idea is to be able to bring the vehicle not just to events but maybe reach out to some of the camps themselves,” Riggs said.

Riggs said they are currently working through mechanical problems with the truck and going through tag/licensure procedures.

In the past two to three months, Fisher said a barter program was established with the camps in the area: The volunteers would bring industrial-sized trash bags and food with a handshake agreement for those living there to clean up the camp. 

“We bring them food anyway … and they almost always honor (the agreement),” Fisher said.

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