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Survey of homeless population in Hall next week aims to bolster support services
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Representatives from local agencies receive training for this year's homeless count in Gainesville-Hall Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, at Ninth District Opportunity. - photo by Scott Rogers

A homeless count is conducted across Georgia every two years not just as a simple tally, but as a way to secure funding for service agencies that work on behalf of those without permanent shelter.

This promise, however, has not always come to fruition.

“Unfortunately, when that count was done in 2017, the vast majority of the data was unusable or incomplete,” said Michael Fisher, housing program planner with Ninth District Opportunity, Inc. in Gainesville, which is coordinating this year’s count in Hall, White and Habersham counties.

There also was no follow up for those homeless individuals requesting housing support, for example.

Moreover, despite outreach efforts on the part of local homeless missions and nonprofits, the number of homeless individuals counted in Hall was suspiciously low in 2017.

That year, 45 men and women were counted as unsheltered, while 78 were counted as living in a dedicated homeless shelter.

During a Ninth District training session for this year’s count (which takes place between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3), advocates from Avita Community Partners, which provides health and housing services, the Georgia Mountain Food Bank and My Sister’s Place, a shelter for homeless women and children, agreed the 2017 tally was inaccurate if based only on anecdotal and observational evidence.

“The problem is much bigger” than what is being documented, Fisher said. “We’re trying to absorb this information and use it so we can learn from those mistakes.”

Several changes are being made this time around in an effort to remedy those mistakes and secure funding for local support services for the homeless.

For example, this year’s count will be conducted using a mobile phone application, rather than paper surveys, and the demographic data collected can be immediately transmitted to the state Department of Community Affairs and then onto the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We want to get an understanding of what’s going on in our community,” Fisher said. “It’s kind of a hidden reality.”

The count includes only those considered “literally” homeless.

For example, that could mean living in a tent encampment, in a car or in a homeless shelter. However, individuals or families doubling up in homes or living out of hotels and motels are not included.

Fisher said volunteers and nonprofits will be visiting encampments, missions and other areas where homeless individuals are known to congregate all next week.

“The idea is we’re going to bring awareness … that we have a real problem here and we need help correcting it,” he added.