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Homelessness rises nationwide, falls in Georgia as agencies prep for 2019 count
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Mark enters his camp Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, following a visit local homeless ministry The Way for lunch. Gainesville recently an ordinance that targets the homeless by banning "urban camping," or sleeping or living in public places. - photo by Scott Rogers

A federal report released this week estimates that 552,800 people were homeless across the United States in 2018, up by about 2,000 from 2017, with about 9,500 in Georgia alone.

The latest figures come as state officials and local nonprofit agencies prepare to conduct a biannual homeless count in Hall County and Northeast Georgia Jan. 28 through Feb. 3.

Ninth District Opportunity will be the lead agency conducting the “point-in-time” count in Hall, Habersham and White counties, utilizing a mobile application to survey both sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals and families.

“Preparations are now underway recruiting partner agencies to join in this most important project,” Michael Fisher, housing and program planner for Ninth District, said in an email to The Times.

There were 123 homeless individuals tallied in the 2017 count, but this almost certainly is an underestimate.

Advocates say some chronically homeless people choose not to be counted, for example, or may have temporary housing during the count.

Fisher said the “goal is to contact representatives from local agencies, churches, and law enforcement who have interaction or knowledge of homeless individuals or encampments. This information will take us to these locations and include these individuals in the count.”

Fisher added that outreach would be conducted by word of mouth, through online social channels and other media, and training will be available for volunteers who want to participate in the homeless count.

Outreach will be conducted at local missions, daycare centers, food banks, public libraries and other places or providers that homeless individuals and families access for service.

Fisher said the state Department of Community Affairs “is seeking to have a more concentrated effort on this (count), with more hands-on training and specific direction from the previous project.  In doing so, the hope is to improve the data, which should reflect a more consistent and accurate count of individuals and families in crisis.”

In recent years, local agencies have focused on connecting the homeless with supportive housing, health, educational and job services.

The count directly impacts funding for housing and counseling programs, and promotes education and outreach.

Nationwide, the overall increase in homelessness this year was driven by a 2 percent rise in the unsheltered homeless population — those living in vehicles, tents and on the streets — along with 4,000 people in emergency shelters after hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This year marked the second consecutive increase after seven straight years of declines, according to the 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress released this week. 

However, the numbers of homeless veterans and families continued their long-term declines.

And the numbers in Georgia are falling, too.

For example, Georgia saw the fifth largest decrease in homelessness last year of any state, falling 6.6 percent from 2017, and has experienced the third largest drop, at 51.6 percent or more than 10,000 persons, since 2007.

Georgia also saw a 64 percent decrease in homeless families since 2007, one of the nation’s largest, with more than 4,500 fewer considered sheltered or unsheltered. 

But Georgia did have the fifth largest number of people in its most rural areas experiencing homelessness, according to the federal report. 

HUD Secretary Ben Carson said on a conference call with reporters Monday that no one should be declaring victory over homelessness despite decreases in certain cities and states.

“We still have a long way to go even though there’s been significant progress,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

More info

To learn more about assisting with Georgia’s homeless count in Hall, Habersham or White Counties between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3, email Michael Fisher, housing and program planner for Ninth District Opportunity, at michael.fisher@ndocsbg.org

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