Officials to assess homeless population

Once again, in an effort to assess the condition and population of the homeless in our area, local nonprofit organizations will join forces with the Prince William Department of Social Services and hit the streets to count the homeless.

Gayle Sanders, program director at the Hilda M. Barg Homeless Prevention Center, said she is concerned about what this, the sixth “Point in Time” survey, will reveal.

“This is one of the first times that I’m worried that we’re going to be searching campsites, and we may find somebody who is in desperate straits or possibly even half-frozen,” Sanders said.

All of the Prince William County shelters, including the winter shelter, are filled to capacity and people are turned away each night for lack of room, so there are more homeless out there and it is colder this year than it has been in recent winters, Sanders said.

“This is the worst winter ever,” she said.

In Jan. 1999, area agencies began participating in the survey, which is a requirement for local agencies that receive funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development .

Volunteers and shelter staffs will conduct the survey between 12 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

The “Point in Time” survey provides 24-hour snapshot of the homeless population and is designed to identify gaps in HUD’s “Continuum of Care” program, which aims to prevent homelessness through education, counseling, financial assistance and training.

The survey asks the homeless to provide their age, sex, education level, marital status and race, Sanders said.

Sanders said the public can help with the survey because community members sometimes know of homeless people living near them.

“There are people in the community who are aware [of the homeless] and are helping in small ways, but if they can also let us know, we can count them and we can also help them,” Sanders said.

“Call us. We’ll go check it out. We’ve got a team,” Sanders said.

The shelters participating in the survey include: Securing Emergency Resources Through Volunteer Efforts at (703) 368-3188, Action in the Community Through Service at (703) 221-3188 and the Hilda M. Barg Homeless Prevention Center, operated by the Volunteers of America at (703) 680-5403.

Volunteers also take survival necessities such as sleeping bags, blankets, socks, hats, gloves, tarps and food to the unsheltered homeless during the survey, Sanders said.

All shelters are currently low on all winter supplies, Sanders said.

Staff writer Keith Walker can be reached at (703) 878-8063.

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