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Sunday September 22nd, 2019 8:46PM

Homeless count gets underway in Gainesville, Hall County

By B.J. Williams, Marc Eggers
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Starting Monday morning, various non-profit agencies began to count the number of homeless people living in Hall County.
 
Shanna Cotton, the Community Resource Director with Ninth District Opportunity (NDO), said the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) asked her agency to coordinate the Point In Time (PIT) count, just as it did two years ago. 
 
"They send over training information and all of the surveys and it's just up to us in the community to come together and organize the entire count," said Cotton.
 
While the count officially began Monday morning, volunteers have the rest of the week to conduct the surveys. However, the people completing the surveys must have been homeless on Monday, January 23 for the survey to be accepted by DCA.
 
Cotton said she thinks the 2017 count will find the homeless population has grown in Hall County.
 
"My gut feeling is there's more this go 'round because Hall County has an abundance of employment and public transportation,so it's very attractive...to reside here," Cotton said. 
 
Cotton pointed out that counting the homeless is not an easy job, since those affected live in so many different situations.
 
"There [are those who are] precariously housed, transitionally housed, emergency shelter housed and literally on the street."
 
Volunteers will take the surveys to various shelters in the county, hoping to complete a survey for everyone they can, according to Cotton. School system officials also have an idea of which students are homeless, so they will be working to get parents to complete surveys. Cotton said if any homeless person wishes to be counted, but might be missed by volunteers, they can come to the NDO office at 615 Oak Street in Gainesville and complete a survey.
 
Cotton said when the count is over on January 30, Kennesaw State University will compile the numbers.
 
"This information is vital to the services and the funding that the community will receive over the next two years," Cotton said. 
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Although Good News at Noon has chosen not to accept government funding due to their evangelistic focus, the longtime homeless shelter participated in the Department of Community Affairs survey.

Volunteers Sharon Fox and Mikayla Franklin sat at tables in the Good News dining room late Monday morning with a handful of questionnaires, awaiting the arrival of those homeless individuals who eat lunch at the ministry.

Slowly, several men watching what the two women from St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Gainesville were doing began to approach.  According to Neal Bledsoe (one of the first individuals to participate in the survey) many who live on the streets have come to regard efforts by the government - even efforts as benign as a survey - with caution.

As time progressed and as what was being done became less of a perceived threat, other homeless men and women approached the two volunteers for their turns at answering the questions contained on the survey.

Good News Assistant Director Beth Oropeza said even those who have resided at Good News for many years are a part of Monday’s census.  “The ones that are staying here are considered homeless…although they have shelter…they are a part of the count.”

Oropeza said Good News provides overnight accommodations for a limited number of homeless, but that number can be increased when the situation demands. “Currently we house eighteen,” she said, “but on really cold nights we open up our dining hall for extra people to stay there.”

Oropeza said in her recent experience, as the local economy has improved the number of homeless has remained constant, but that the number of employed individuals who stop by daily to take lunch has increased noticeably.

“People come in from the poultry factories surrounding us…they may have jobs but they still want help,” Oropeza explained.

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As part of the survey process, Ninth District Opportunity and United Way of Hall County made an appeal to the public for items to be placed in "goody bags" for those homeless men and women who participate. Community members donated personal care items, such as shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste and wet wipes. Some businesses, such as Longstreet Cafe and Chick-Fil-A donated gift cards for hot meals. 

  • Associated Categories: Homepage, Local/State News
  • Associated Tags: good news at noon, homelessness, Ninth District Opportunity, Hall County homeless count, DCA, Department of Community Affairs, The Way, Point In Time count
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