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Program attempts to get accurate count of homeless in the area

January 18, 2019

SCOTTSBLUFF — Tuesday is an important day for one group of vulnerable people in the community.

On Tuesday, Jan. 22. Continuums of Care (CoCs) will be conducting a Point-in-Time (PIT) count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons. The Department of Housing and Urban Development requires that CoCs conduct an annual count of homeless persons who are sheltered in emergency shelter, transitional housing and safe havens on a single night.

CoCs also must conduct a count of unsheltered homeless persons every other year (odd numbered years). Each count is planned, coordinated and carried out locally. The Housing Inventory Count (HIC) is a point-in-time inventory of provider programs within a CoC that provide beds and units dedicated to serve persons who are homeless, categorized by five program types including emergency shelter, transitional housing, rapid re-housing, safe haven and permanent supportive housing.

Anyone in the nation who receives HUD homeless funds participates in this survey. HUD then uses those counts to determine funding for the next year.

“HUD sets the day and we try to get a head count for every person we come in contact with that day,” Brent Anderson, executive director of Cirrus House, said.

Scotts Bluff County does not have an adult homeless shelter, which makes accurate counts more difficult. Bigger cities can conduct bed counts and have street outreach, but in rural Nebraska, homelessness is often unseen because people stay in cars or couch surf, which makes accurate counts harder.

“We have an ever-growing problem of homelessness that no one thinks we have,” Steph Black, executive director of United Way of Western Nebraska, said.

While Black and Anderson agree a one-day count is not accurate, it is what they have to work with. They are attempting to get the word out about the count and raise awareness to the issue of homelessness in the Panhandle.

“We’re trying to promote the day to get the numbers up because we know the people are out there,” Anderson said.

The outreach centers for people to be counted on Jan. 22 are the Lakota Lutheran Center, 1200 East Overland, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Cirrus House Conference Center, 1506 First Ave. from 5-7 p.m.

“We want people to know there will be two spots that day,” Black said. “Anyone facing homelessness that would like to get connected to resources is encouraged to come.”

While the local CoCs hope to get a better idea of the numbers of people on Jan. 22, they encourage members of the community to reach out to people they think may need assistance.

“This is not a one day problem,” Black said. “We have resources families can talk to.”

Black said the CoCs are working hard to not bounce people in crisis from one place to another and every attempt is made to get them to a single point of contact, but that isn’t always possible.

“It’s important not only to work together and eliminate duplication of services, but we don’t to add to their stress,” Black said. “We direct people as soon as possible to a safe place to live and the resources to get them back on their feet.”

The count is also important because of the limited funding. The more accurate the count, the more CoCs can do for people who need assistance.

“I’m proud of our programs in the communities that are working hard to make sure resources aren’t wasted and we are getting the best connections for those families in need,” Black said.

If you or someone you know might need assistance, contact Becky Strauss, homeless prevention specialist for Cirrus House, at 308-633-1146 and she can direct you to what resources you may need. Anderson said if you have to leave a message to please do.

“We want to spread the word that we work with people who are in crisis,” Anderson said.

Anderson said three people could be hired with the money, but that would be less money to help others with services.

“We wish we could help everyone right now, but that’s the reality of funding,” Anderson said. “We have a pot of money and we have to make it work.”

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