ALBANY, Ga. -- A group of volunteers will spend the next week trying to get a true and accurate count of Southwest Georgia's homeless population in hopes of using the numbers to justify additional state and federal attention to what some feel are the silent masses wandering the region's streets.
The Southwest Georgia Regional Commission and its member counties are partnering with the Coalition to End Homelessness to host a weeklong survey of homeless or those deemed to be "precariously housed," city of Albany Community and Economic Development Department official Thelma Watson said.
"There is this image of the homeless as strictly being those who don't have a home or are out on the streets," Watson said. "In reality, there are various categories of those who are precariously housed where they have no real control of where and when they'll have a roof over there head ... like if they were forced to live with a relative or at a shelter."
While there have been previous counts taken, the partnership among local government bodies and the coalition has never enjoyed the level of cooperation it's seeing this year, as evidenced by the participation of the Dougherty County government.
"Homelessness isn't just a city of Albany problem. It's an issue that we all face, city and county," Assistant County Administrator Mike McCoy, the count's co-chair, said.
Coalition to End Homelessness officials say getting an accurate count is important because it allows the group and local governments to provide quantified data to state and federal authorities who stand as the gatekeepers of various programs and funding.
"It's important because these people are the ones who are most likely to run to the emergency room but don't have funds to pay and drive costs up; they're the ones who cause the housefires because they look for somewhere warm to stay," David Blackwell, chair of the coalition, said. "When costs go up and those firetrucks run, it costs all of us. So the idea is that an accurate count gives us a better chance of getting the most accurate amount of help."
Teams of volunteers will be set up at various places in the 14-county area where the homeless tend to migrate, such as rescue missions, shelters and government aid offices, and will administer a brief survey asking the participant where they were living Sunday, Jan. 16.
No confidential information will be collected, and the data will be used only to ensure that the same person doesn't get counted multiple times.