Counting on you

For the last several days, volunteers at shelters across the county have been busy preparing packages for the homeless.

In a 24-hour period beginning at midnight Thursday, shelter workers and volunteers will search the woods and abandoned buildings for camps so they can get an accurate count of Prince William County’s unsheltered homeless population.

The packages, filled with necessities such as blankets, toiletries and socks, encourage the homeless to come and be counted, said Gayle Sanders of Volunteers of America, which operates the Hilda M. Barg Homeless Prevention Center in Woodbridge.

At the center, workers fill large maroon, drawstring bags with combs, composition books, pens, gloves, thermal underwear, food, flashlights and batteries provided mainly by St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Woodbridge, Sanders said.

It is important to quantify the unsheltered homeless population because the area’s population determines the amount of money the shelters can get from government agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Sanders, who is the homeless prevention center’s director.

It is important to count everybody because they’re out there, and numbers translate into service, Sanders said.

During the count, Sanders said, agencies survey the homeless, asking participants their age, marital status and race.

The survey, which helps HUD identify gaps in its continuum of care, asks the respondents how many times they have been homeless, where they lived before they became homeless and if they have a valid driver’s license.

The continuum of care is HUD’s way of ensuring that agencies receiving government money provide programs to help prevent homelessness, Sanders said.

The department’s program aids agencies in formulating plans to help the homeless progress to self-sufficiency, whether they come in from the street to a homeless shelter or move from a homeless shelter into an apartment, Sanders said.

It’s not supposed to be just a requirement. It’s supposed to be a living, working thing that all nonprofits are involved in to provide care to the community, Sanders said.

Marnita Johnson, AfterShare coordinator at the Homeless Prevention Shelter, said at the least, the count provides those who are living unsheltered with little things that provide some comfort.

We can’t fix all of their problems, but we can take care of the little things. It’s the necessities that see them through, Johnson said.

Those who know of homeless people who might wish to participate in the survey or those wishing to volunteer should call one the county’s shelters.

The shelters include: Securing Emergency Resources through Volunteer Efforts Inc., (703) 368-3612; Action in the Community Through Service, (703) 221-3186; and the Hilda M. Barg Homeless Prevention Center operated by the Volunteers of America, (703) 680-5403.

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

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