Accurate homeless count hard to obtain

By Tammy Keith Originally Published January 31, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 30, 2013 at 10:03 a.m.
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Tammy Keith

Debbie Crosby, case manager for Bethlehem House, the homeless shelter in Conway, holds a bowl of cookies as she prepares to take some to a man she met during last week’s annual homeless count. The man, a Vietnam veteran, said he likes sweets and rarely gets them, Crosby said. He was one of 136 homeless individuals counted in Faulkner County.

The annual homeless count came the same week that Bethlehem House in Conway received its building permit to construct a new shelter.

Judi Lively, executive director of Bethlehem House, said last week that 136 homeless people were counted in Faulkner County, but that isn’t a firm number.

“It’s hard. It’s hard to count them,” she said.

The annual Point-in-Time Count required by Housing and Urban Development is conducted by the Toad Suck Coalition in Faulkner, Perry and Conway counties.

Lively said the numbers weren’t yet available for Perry and Conway counties.

The count was held from midnight Jan. 22 through midnight Jan. 23, but Lively said those doing the counting didn’t stay out that late.

She said there are areas known to be homeless camps, and officials visited those.

“And not necessarily just camps — if someone is living in a rundown travel trailer with a water hose,” no electricity and holes in the walls, “some of those we counted,” she said.

“We did that, and of course, if they’re in a shelter, they’re counted,” she said.

Homeless people who came to Bethlehem House for the hot meal the night of the count were included as well.

Fliers about the count were placed at the Faulkner County Health Unit, the Department of Human Services, food banks, coin laundries and convenience stores, Lively said.

Other agencies provided information, including the Women’s Shelter of Central Arkansas, The Salvation Army and the Community Action Program for Central Arkansas. Conway Police Department officers “pointed out some places to go look,” Lively said.

Homeless people can be elusive, she said.

“Generally, if you have a family, you don’t want to be found,” Lively said.

“We actually served less people at dinner that night because we had announced we were doing a count,” she said.

“We had 20, 22 the night before, then about 10 [people]” after the homeless-count announcement.

“I was surprised by that, I have to tell you,” she said. “It could have been something totally different.”

In 2011, 111 homeless were counted; in 2010, the count was 174.

People who “double up” and live with other family members cannot be included in this count, Lively said.

Eleven people were living at Bethlehem House last week.

“We have room, and we’re doing interviews,” she said.

People who live at Bethlehem House must meet certain requirements, including finding a job within 30 to 45 days of moving in, staying drug- and alcohol-free, helping with chores and acquiring a GED if they don’t have a high school diploma.

“There are some people who for reasons of their history or reasons of their mental health, they would not work in a shelter environment,” she said.

“It would not work for them — they would not fit in. It wouldn’t work out.”

Bethlehem House had a capital campaign to raise $1.3 million to build the new shelter in downtown Conway.

The campaign met the Dec. 31 deadline to raise the final $15,000 to receive matching funds from charitable foundations.

The 7,200-square-foot, two-story facility on Parkway Avenue will have space to house 35 people and two emergency bedrooms.

“When you drive around Conway and look at what is affordable housing, it’s pretty sad,” she said.

“We really need to look at affordable housing, and you know the economy right now. It’s almost like Conway was a year behind on being affected.”

Lively said the effect is evident as Bethlehem House is planning its Valentine Gala. The event, set for 6 p.m. Friday at oneChurch in Conway, is a major fundraiser for shelter operations and includes silent and live auctions.

“We’ve gotten people who have been donors for years and years and years who have said, ‘Judi, we just can’t do it this year; we’ll do it next year,’” she said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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