Several central Arkansas organizations are joining communities across the country as they take a census of the homeless population.
Every two years a Point In Time count is mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The local census will include Pulaski, Saline, Prairie, and Lonoke counties and is scheduled for Tuesday night.
Ben Goodwin is Board President for CATCH, the Central Arkansas Team Care for the Homeless, which is coordinating the central Arkansas count. He is also Assistant Director of Our House, a Little Rock organization that provides shelter and training for the homeless and near-homeless.
“There are three different aspects of the count,” Goodwin explained. “One is counting all of the people who are in shelters. And one reason why the count is always scheduled for January is the thought that in the coldest part of the year that will be when most people will be in shelters, and so that will make that count, which we have the most direct control over, as robust as possible.”
Volunteers will also be counting the homeless at one of nine warming stations in the region and at areas known to be gathering places for the homeless.
“[The Point In Time count] gives CATCH, and member agencies, and other local stakeholders data that they can use to help coordinate services and target our efforts where they’re most needed in combating homelessness,” said Goodwin.
One such targeted effort in 2015 challenged mayors across the country to address the population of homeless veterans in their communities. Phyllis Dickerson, the chief of staff for Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, says the response in central Arkansas focused on coordinating local agencies to streamline the process of helping homeless veterans.
“Even though you have new veterans matriculating into the homeless scenario, you still have the ability to move them into transitional housing. It’s an ongoing cycle, but at least you have a system in place,” said Dickerson.
Results from counts in 2013 and 2015 showed a steady decrease in the number of homeless in central Arkansas. HUD is expected to release official numbers from this year in May or June.