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Agencies begin homeless head count
Surveys designed to focus on problem, steer those in need to shelters, other aid
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Homeless count

If anyone would like to be included in the count but doesn't receive a survey, contact Michele Thompson, AVITA Community Partners supported living program director, at 770-536-7476 or

Local groups will start counting the homeless this week, noting where they stay and how they got there.

As part of a nationwide Department of Community Affairs count at the end of January, 60 Georgia groups are helping to define how many people are homeless or in danger of becoming so.

In Hall County, AVITA Community Partners will pass out surveys on the streets and at local departments and agencies that interact with homeless people regularly. AVITA helped Hall County participate in its first count in 2009.

"From then until this year, we expect there will be an increase in first-time homeless" due to the downturn in the economy, said Michelle Thompson, director of the AVITA supported living program.

"Part of the funds we receive go toward homeless prevention and rapid re-housing, which is designed to hit that population."

Volunteers and students from Brenau University and North Georgia College & State University will pass out surveys at local homeless shelters, the health department, food banks, housing authority centers and the Veterans Affairs Clinic in Oakwood. Ninth District Opportunity will survey individuals in Dawson, Lumpkin and White counties.

The survey will ask where the person spent Sunday night. The questions include how long the person has lived at the location, what factors led to homelessness and whether the person has worked in the last month.

"It may also help us gauge how the person is in need. If we meet someone on the streets in need of mental health services, we can inform them at that time," Thompson said. "The surveys will help us gauge what issues are in Hall County. People may not realize what types of shelters and permanent housing are available."

The data determines how much funding counties receive from the Department of Community Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development for homeless care. Kennesaw State University will also use the data to create a statistical estimate of the number of homeless individuals statewide.

"We're faced with the challenge of how to do a statewide homeless count, and KSU was able to come up with a statistical model that we can use to sample counties and estimate a statewide number for funding purposes," said Lindsey Stillman, planning coordinator for the Housing Trust Fund of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

In 2009, the state Department of Community Affairs estimated about 21,000 people were homeless in Georgia. More than half were unsheltered or facing imminent loss of housing, and the other 43 percent were in emergency or transitional housing for victims of domestic violence.

The 2009 report helped the department look at the estimated rate of homelessness compared to statewide resources.

"Because of visibility, everyone assumes that homeless people are located in urban areas and out on the streets, but they're also in rural areas," Stillman said. "This helps at the state level to make sure every county has access to some sort of service, which could look different in Atlanta and a rural community."

Stillman, who wrote the 2009 report, was also intrigued by the numbers of "precariously housed" residents.

"They're not literally homeless, but they may be in the next few weeks, which is especially important in these times with the economy and employment," she said. "The numbers help us with long-term planning at the state level as we look at how to prevent homelessness as well."

The 2009 survey found between 100 to 500 homeless people in Hall, Habersham, Forsyth and Jackson counties, 51 to 100 homeless in Union and White counties and 26 to 50 homeless in Banks, Lumpkin and Dawson counties.

"We want to do everything we can to get everybody involved so we can help this population," Thompson said. "The better job we do identifying the need in Hall County, the better chance we have of getting increased funding."

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