Volunteers, supplies needed for annual homeless count

Count scheduled for Jan. 29

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CBH Columbia Basin Herald Local News

MOSES LAKE - Grant County Housing Authority officials are seeking donations to distribute next month during the annual count of the county's homeless men, women and children.

Last year the group passed out food, hygiene packs, tents and other cold-weather survival supplies to 177 homeless people in Grant County.

This year the group needs more tents, toothpaste, portable heaters and volunteers to pass out the items and tally the number of homeless people for the Jan. 29 count.

The count is required to receive state funding, but also helps officials see where the homeless are living and what that population looks like, said Homeless Programs Manager Steffanie Bonwell.

Bonwell said the late January date does not necessarily makes sense for Central Washington's homeless. She noted many homeless migrant farm workers that were harvesting fruit three months prior have moved on to other seasonal work and families that are homeless many other months of the year are staying with friends or family during the extreme cold.

But it is a national date to count homeless people, she said, and in order to continue to receive funding Bonwell must count the homeless on that date.

She said she finds surprises every year, like the steadily growing homeless population in Grand Coulee, typically thought to be a resort community with many retirees.

During the 2012 count, volunteers counted 65 homeless people either living in tents, abandoned buildings or RVs with no utilities.

During the 2013 count, it was well below freezing and snow was on the ground and volunteers counted 50 homeless people.

"That is one thing that is great about all of these small towns," Bonwell said. "When it gets really cold and families are in need, people step up and help."

The 2014 total of 177 homeless people was by far the highest on record and included for the first time 86 children counted by school officials.

In order to be considered homeless for the count, a person must have slept the previous night either outside, in a tent, in their vehicle including an RV without power or water hookups, or in an abandoned structure like a building.

She said volunteers are assigned a specific area to visit, and talk to business owners, law enforcement and neighbors to find out where the homeless in that area typically spend the night. They also have a list of parks in the area where homeless may frequent, The count does not include people who "couch surf" or bounce from house to house to find a place to sleep, Bonwell said.

When they find homeless people, or people in need, volunteers pass out the food, hygiene packs and other items. She said the small electric heaters are crucial, because while a person may have a place to stay with electricity, it may not have insulation or any other heating source.

Part of this year's count will include a free services day for the homeless at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Moses Lake on Jan. 29.

The Project Homeless Connect includes services like a free warm clothes, haircut and shower and coincides with the church's free soup and sandwich day.

For more information about the count or to volunteer, contact the Housing Authority of Grant County at (509) 762-5541.

Justin Brimer can be reached via e-mail at jbrimer@columbiabasinherald.com.

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