The EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless (ECOH) conducted its annual Point In Time (PIT) count of homeless people in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties last week. Again this year, the count was capped off with their U-Count Homeless Resource Day, which serves as an expo for agencies offering services to the homeless.
A couple hours into the event, people were still showing up at the Salvation Army Community Center to be checked in by volunteers. Once processed, PIT survey participants, wearing purple wrist bands to prove they’ve been counted, were then allowed access to the gym, where dozens of organizations waiting for them.
“We are serving the homeless with over 45 service providers that include any type of service that might possibly be a barrier to [ending] homeless, from housing to health screenings, mental health care,” said Serene Keiek, marketing director for the coalition. “We’re even giving out bicycle helmets.”
Each year, the event is enhanced. New for 2017 was a requirement that participants make four mandatory stops.
“One of those stops is with our free legal clinic,” said Keiek. During the event, a contingent of nine attorneys from Legal Services of North Florida conducted a free legal clinic, helping individuals address issues ranging from delinquent property taxes and child support to suspended driver’s licenses.
Other mandatory stops included the Escambia Community Clinic van, which does triage. There was also the Florida Department of Health giving free TDAC vaccinations, and Florida A&M University School of Pharmacy doing health screenings.
“We’re providing blood glucose monitoring, BMI testing, high blood pressure testing, and some cholesterol testing,” said Dr. Lillian Smith-Mosley, associate professor of Pharmacy Practice at FAMU, who brought over students from their College of Pharmacy in Crestview.
Because the stop was mandatory, a line to wait formed. But, Smith-Mosley said for many it will be worth the wait. “We catch a lot of things that the patients don’t even recognize that they have,” she said. The pharmacy students follow up the screenings with medication counseling and documentation that offers information on diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol, as well as how to maintain it once they get home.
Once onsite screening is complete, individuals with elevated readings are sent to the Escambia Community Clinic’s mobile unit.
“We have a provider on the van that’s able to assess those patients as they come and if it’s anything that we need to follow up on,” said Sandra Donaldson, director of special programs for ECC. “Then we’ll assign them to a primary care provider within our organization, so this is a very useful access point for us.”
One of the biggest operations, and also a mandatory stop, was the Florida Department of Health of Escambia County. Assisting them with Tetanus-Diphtheria-Pertussis or Tdap vaccinations were nursing students from Georgia Technical College, Pensacola State College, and the University of West Florida, where Chanda Dasinger is a senior.
“I am 36 from Reno, Nevada and somehow ended up in the south area and UWF comes out to help these events and it also helps us by giving vaccinations and getting experience with this,” Dasinger said.
Beyond the mandatory stops, a number of veterans’ service organizations were available to discuss housing resources and other issues.
On a more basic level, Salvation Army hosted a clothes closet where U-Count participants could get various items including donated jackets and new.
The Be Ready Alliance Coordinating for Emergencies (BRACE) handed out blankets for those cold nights.
Virginia College was on hand this year to provide haircuts and bicycle helmets were being distributed to those who wanted them.
“Wear it in good health, be safe out there,” Deb Moore with the Community Traffic Safety Team told a woman after fitting her with a new helmet.
Moore said the helmets are accompanied by instruction on how to properly wear them and how to safely ride.
“Well, I know that so many of our homeless veterans and homeless are riding bicycles and I know that there are programs that are giving bicycle away. So, adding this extra element of safety is important, to put that helmet on their head.”
At the end of the day, some 280 people took part in the U-Count Resource Day Event including Eric and Shana Mathis, a young couple who had their six-month old son in tow.
From Flomaton, Alabama, they moved to Pensacola after they were evicted to stay with family that moved here. Then the family member moved back to Flomaton, and left them behind. “So now we’re just stuck. And, we’re working with Loaves & Fishes right now to try and find a place, but we can’t find a place right now, so we’re homeless,” Shana Mathis said.
The couple said the healthcare services provided at the event were what they needed most and their readings from their screenings were in the normal range. For them, employment has been an issue. But both were scheduled for job interviews and expressed optimism that would be resolved soon.
Participants who completed the rounds carried plastic bags stuffed with the items they were given and at the end of the day enjoyed a meal provided by Wind Creek from Atmore.
“Just like wine, in time it gets a little better; there’s always things that we’re going to tweak,” said John Johnson, executive director of the EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless, adding that their assessment would begin immediately.
“It’s all about making this whole experience better for the provider, better for the client experience and I enjoy doing this. So, I look forward to doing it every year.”
After wrapping up this year’s Point In Time Survey and U-Count Homeless Resource Day, ECOH will about a year to prepare for the next year’s events to be held in January 2018.