The EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless is gearing up for their annual "point in time" survey to take place on January 25 in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.
ECOH Marketing Director Serene Keiek and Housing Director Dianna Moore recently stopped by WUWF to talk with Sandra Averhart about the purpose and importance of the homeless count. Also, they’re seeking volunteers to help conduct the survey and to assist with their U-Count Homeless Resource Day event to follow.
Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Sandra Averhart: Serene, tell us about the Point In Time Count, which is conducted annually over a 24-hour period.
Serene Keiek: "We do this count annually. We’ve done this count now for about six years and we do it on one of the last ten days of January. HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) mandates that we do this. I believe they want to do this because it’s one of the colder days in the year, especially here in the state of Florida."
SA: And, so you’re likely to find more homeless individuals seeking services at that time?
SK: “Yes, we count both sheltered and unsheltered individuals, so it does give you a push to get the unsheltered. We know where the sheltered individuals are at. The challenge is counting the unsheltered individuals.”
SA: Why do this survey?
Dianna Moore: “I think a couple of reasons. Number one, we use this survey information in our planning process. It tells us the really the numbers and the demographics of those who are both in shelter looking for permanent housing, as well as those who, as Serene said, are unsheltered currently. So, number one, locally we use it for our planning purposes. Number two, HUD requires it because that’s what they use, information for all across the United States to help in their planning process for the budget. So, it enables them to know how much funds to ask for, what areas of need nationally are there, just like locally, areas of need such as funding for housing families, funding for housing veterans. That is why we look at that. It’s very important and as a result of that we receive even additional funding, because our numbers are reported and the state requires us; they look at those numbers when they decide the funding process as well."
SA: As a result of this survey, the EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless has received more funding; enough to add new staff members such as the Dianna Moore, who was hired during the past year as housing director.
SK: “We have. And, we’re so excited about this because Dianna has brought so much positivity to the ECOH by identifying ways that we can increase our housing inventory count in our area, such as our low affordable housing. And, she also has brought strategies to us about how we can put people in permanent housing, which is a trend HUD has been going to. We’ve also been able to add on a life skills coach. It’s really easy, sometimes not easy, but to put a family into a house by paying their first month’s rent or paying their mortgage that’s behind. But, having someone follow this client is really important to case manage what they need in everyday life skills. So, we recently have added this position. We’ve also added a position of an outreach case manager. So, this one goes out to the streets. It goes to the places where the homeless people are being served and will help the people, tell them the services and get them the information referral that’s needed to get them on the way.”
SA: Tell us about the homeless problem in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties; what are the latest figures?
· In 2015 there were 1,041 homeless in both counties, in 2016 the total was 798
· In 2015 73% were Men and 27% Women and in 2016 68% were Men with 32% women
· In 2015, 167 were Veterans and in 2016, 113 were Veterans
DM: “I think one of the things - that was a reflection of part of that - is that is the fact that we were able to house a number of veterans. So, our veteran count, actual veterans’ homeless count between 2015 and ‘16 reduced as well. And, part of that was because of funding received by different entities specifically for housing supports for placements of veterans directly into permanent housing. The other thing that I think was a little interesting is that in 2015 we had a higher percentage of males who were homeless. And, it 2016, it actually dropped and the (number of) female homeless rose. And, I think part of that reflection is because of our outreach, because of our work with veterans between 2015 and 2016. So, now we’re anxious to see then what they number change will be reflected this month."
SA: Does the survey tell you why a person is newly homeless or why they’re homeless in general?
DM: “Yes, one of the questions does ask that. Why do you find yourself homeless and actually, it also asks how many times have you been homeless over a three year period. So, it may be that a person was housed and then they were unable to maintain their housing, maybe due to a medical condition and expenses of medical costs, so they lost their housing. And, so, we do find out A: why their homeless and B: then what was that root cause. Because addressing that root cause, again, is something we want to be able to do to help them once they get housing to be able to sustain it.”
SA: Tell us more about the survey, including how long it is.
SK: “It’s a two-page survey. It does ask demographic information and it will identify where the survey was taking place. (As Dianna said) It will ask you ‘what was your cause of homeless and how long have you been homeless?’ It will ask them where they slept the night before, the survey. And, it will also ask them if they have a disability or not. We identify chronic homeless by two ways, if a person has a disability and the length of time they’ve been homeless. I think it’s important because mental health is a huge factor to why a person is homeless and we’re able to identify that.”
Volunteers will be needed to conduct the Point In Time survey on Jan. 25 and will be assigned to various locations.
Specific Sites in Escambia & Santa Rosa:
Loaves and Fishes/6:30 - 8:30 a.m.
Alfred Washburn Center/8:00 - 10:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Waterfront Rescue Mission/8:00-10:00 a.m., 3:00 – 5:00 p.m.
Richards Memorial/10:00 a.m. – Noon, Noon – 2:00 p.m.
Interfaith Clinic, Santa Rosa
Point In Time (PIT) volunteers also can choose specific hours to conduct the survey, with no specific site designated, in two hour increments from 6:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Keiek: “If you want, you can just choose to volunteer at one spot or you can travel through the day at the other locations. So we go from Loaves and Fishes to the Alfred Washburn Center, Waterfront Rescue Mission, and Richards Memorial. We’ll do Santa Rosa County as well, at the Interfaith Clinic. And, other spots that we’re looking for right now, is also what we need help with, is ‘where are the homeless congregations in Santa Rosa.’ Also or you can send flyers out as well to other pockets where the homeless congregate.”
SA: I wanted to go back really quickly just to establish that there are som changes in the count as it relates to going out ot the homeless camps or encampments. Talk about that change- you’re gongi to get that count but you’re going about it a little differently, correct?
SK: "Correct. In previous years we do establish relationships with outreach groups that go out and they ask us to supply volunteers to help with the surveys. Through the years, though, we’ve found out that’s getting harder and harder to do, so this year what we’re doing is we’re simply asking is if you are an outreach organization, when you go out during the week to feed or on the weekend just help us get the word out by passing out fliers and letting the homeless individuals know that there is help for them available at the U-Count resource day and inviting them to come to this event."
SA: and then they an be counted there.
SK: "That’s correct. And we will know if they have been counted because during the day of the count on January 25, once we conduct the survey we then give the individual a wristband which will then actually act as a pass to come into the U-Count the next day, January 26. Then, with this, they then get to come in and if we have persons who show up who do not have wristbands we conduct the survey right then and there at the ucount day and it’s within our 24 hour window that HUD allows us to conduct these surveys."
SA: Tell us about your recruitment of these volunteers. Who are you looking for in a volunteer?
SK: "Well we have relied on, our mass volunteers, comes from the UWF students. And they are the ones, we really enjoy working with the UWF students, we have even seen them do a career change once they do this. Our other volunteers come from our partners, they come from the community, we outreach through community calendars, Facebook, email, talk shows, anything we can do to bring the volunteers in."
SA: Any criteria, specifically, that they must meet?
SK: "Must be 18 years or older."
SA: So how do they sign up and they do have to go through training so talk about that part too.
SK: "We do have training classes. We have three training classes, I believe it’s set up on January 17 and we train both in Escambia and Santa Rosa County. There is a registration process that you go through, you can either submit online at www.ecoh.org or email Diana or myself or you can call us at our ECOH number 850-439-3009 and we can write you down and we will send you a registration form prior to the event, you can select where you want to volunteer and you can also select where you would like to be trained."
SA: We should also point out that you’re needing volunteers not just for the count but for your annual U-Count services day event that actually happens after the count is concluded, right?
SK: "Yes, it happens the very next day, it’s like us doing two separate events in the 48 hours, requiring about 150 volunteers between the two events and the next day event, the U-Count resource day, takes place at salvation army at 1501 N Q sst at 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and it’s a one-stop shop of services for the homeless, everywhere to food being served, haircuts being done, vaccinations, we’ll have housing, we’ll have mainstream services there, we try to include every provider we work with that gives a variant of service to the homeless individuals."