Volunteers canvas Chattanooga streets to count the homeless population
Teams of volunteers spent the day canvassing Chattanooga to find out how many people experience homelessness in the area.
The survey is conducted by the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition. The goal is to identify the population and learn more about how to better help people find resources in the community.
From the most obvious places to areas you might not expect, volunteers spent hours looking for people who experience homelessness.
"Sir, we're from the homeless coalition, we're conducting the point in time survey," volunteer Lindsay Swany said
Executive Director Wendy Winters said the non-profit advocates for the homeless and service providers.
"It's good that we know that and that we can target those populations and make sure they're receiving the services they deserve," Winters said.
The Point In Time count is needed for federal funding and to know who they are serving because tracking can be difficult.
"We have an idea of those that are sheltered, but those that are unsheltered, that's what we really need to know about who is out there," Winters explained.
In Highland Park, volunteers found a couple living tucked away in the woods.
"How many adults and children are in your household?" Swany asked.
They gather basic information and find out if they need any help.
"See if there's any mental health issues, substance abuse issues, any traumatic brain injury issues to be mindful of," Swany explained.
Homelessness is not significantly increasing. The total number homeless from the 2018 PIT was 623 compared to 576 from in 2017.
The number that concerns the coalition is the increase in the 'chronic population,' which are those homeless for a year or more. Last year, there were 322 chronically homeless compared to 192 in 2017. An increase of 130 chronically homeless people in only one year.
"That's people that have been out on the street for a year or more, and we think a big part of that is the lack of affordable housing here in Chattanooga right now," Winters said.
Volunteers said the experience is rewarding and eye-opening. Above all, it helps our neighbors going through a rough patch.
"It's just a good reminder that it can happen to anybody, and these are still people that deserve to have their needs met because we're all humans, we're kind of all in this together," Swany said.
The PIT also highlights the need for a year-round, low-barrier shelter. According to last year's PIT count, there were 293 people unsheltered. These are people who live on the streets versus in a shelter. In Hamilton County, there are 179 year round, high-barrier shelter beds. High-barrier means that there may be program requirements for entry.
"We don't have a low-barrier shelter in Chattanooga other than the cold weather shelter at the Community Kitchen that is only operated three months out of the year," Winters said.
During the PIT count last year, there were 110 people at the Community Kitchen on the night the survey was done.
"You have to keep in mind too that of the 179 year-round beds in Hamilton county, 123 of those are for women and children only. Then look at the unsheltered numbers from the PIT and you find that there were only two children and 72 women unsheltered. Compare that to 217 unsheltered men," Winters explained.
Winters said this means there are only 56 beds that are available year-round to men in Hamilton County, and the majority of those who are unsheltered on the streets and those warming up at the Community Kitchen during winter months are men. It's why Winters said it's one of many reasons why Chattanooga needs a year-round, low barrier shelter.
Results from this year's PIT count will not be ready until next month. Officials will then use the results to support the homeless population