Counting the homeless

At any given time, people around the state are homeless. But the people who help them are somewhat powerless unless they know how *many* people are homeless, and where they are.

Posted: Jan 23, 2018 10:45 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: At any given time, people all over the state of Mississippi are homeless - for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways. But the people who help them are somewhat powerless unless they know how MANY people are homeless, and where they are. And that’s exactly what’s behind something called "Point in Time," an annual effort to locate and count the homeless. WTVA’s Mike Russell spent most of Tuesday in the field with a homeless coalition -- and filed this report.

TUPELO, Miss. (WTVA) - They live under bridges, they live in shelters, and they live in cars -- just three of the many ways that people in Mississippi are homeless. But once a year, those who help them make a statewide effort to locate and count the homeless. It’s called “Point in Time,” but long term, it's about helping the homeless get off the streets.

2.98 million people live in Mississippi. At last count, almost 1500 of them had no home of their own. Across the state this week, three coalitions partnered as the backbone of Point of Time are diligently seeking the homeless wherever they are -- in shelters, homeless camps, soup kitchens -- counting them, learning more than ever about them, all part of an effort to someday end homelessness. Right now, though, it's about the vulnerability of those least prepared to meet their own needs.

"How vulnerable is that person on any given day?" asks Hannah Maharrey, chair of Tupelo's Homelessness Task Force. "Vulnerability really is their quality of life."

Allen Tisdale is from MUTEH, Mississippi United to End Homelessness. Formerly homeless himself, he's an "outreach navigator," an expert at finding homeless camps, and if no one's there, determining how many people live there, and their gender and age. Why is this important? Because state and federal funding to help the homeless is based on knowing as much about them as possible. So Allen and his volunteers are moving about quickly...counting, learning.

Mike Russell: "Do you get a sense that homelessness is decreasing in some way?"

Allen Tisdale: "I do. Listen, just because you house one person -- or two people -- it fluctuates, right? But the idea we tackle the root of what homelessness is, and really that's offering housing - and that's what we're doing. And so yes, across the state, I'm seeing it decrease - and especially here in Tupelo."

Ending homelessness certainly won’t happen overnight. It’s a complicated and sensitive process. Bottom line, though, the more everyone knows about the homeless, the better chance they have of getting at least some of them off the streets permanently.

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