Louise Primrose, right, stands with an unidentified member of the Community Development Council at Thursday rally for next week's homeless survey.
ALBANY, Ga. — When the U.S. Census Bureau undertook its constitutional task of counting Americans in 2010, its workers knocked on a lot of doors in Albany, counting up anyone and everyone they could find.
When the dust had settled and the numbers came in, some local officials were stunned by the number of homeless people tallied in the Good Life City.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there is one homeless person in Albany.
For David Blackwell, of Albany's Coalition to End Homelessness, that number is far from accurate.
"We know, for instance, that there are 800 children in the Dougherty County School System that are homeless, and that they are attached to at least one caregiver who likely is homeless that puts it at 1,600 right there," Blackwell says. "We counted 700 ourselves in 2011 without the school system's involvement. We see the numbers getting to two or three thousand in this community fairly easily. So we desperately need an accurate count."
That's why Blackwell and a lengthy list of the city's government organizations, social groups, churches and philanthropic organizations will undertake a week-long homeless count in Albany next week, hoping to get a realistic grip on the homeless problem in Albany.
It's a joint effort with the state of Georgia and Kennesaw State University to paint an accurate picture of homelessness in the state in the hope that organized efforts to end poverty and homelessness can gain some traction.
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs definition of homeless might not be what comes to most people's mind when they think of the term.
"It's not the image that we have of someone who is living on the street," Blackwell says. "Being homeless goes beyond that.
"Anyone who lives outside of a permanent dwelling that is safe for habitation; it could be vehicles, in a hotel, with relatives, in shelters, those who are incarcerated; those are who may be living in a hospital — any place that isn't there normal permanent, roof-over-their-head kind of place."
On Thursday, Blackwell and others volunteering to help in the survey rallied in front of the Government Center to accept a proclamation from Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard and voice their support for the effort.
LaDonna Urick, the head of Mission Change — an organization that works closely with those living in poverty and who are considered either homeless or precariously housed — called the residents of Albany to take action to help get an accurate count.
"Don't fail to get involved," Urick said. "Everyone always talks about how they wish they could do this; how I wish I could make a difference. Through hard work, dedication and persistence, we can bring radical change not only to those that we serve but to our community and our city."
Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard says that the community for too long has viewed social problems through an apathetic lens.
"We cannot sit back and say we can't," Hubbard said. "My mother used to say that 'can't' is dead. So we all have an obligation, in my opinion, to try to do whatever we can to help those who are less fortunate. But for the grace of God, it could have been any of us in this situation."
As far as the count itself, Blackwell says that it will be a point-in-time survey in which volunteers will ask the homeless where they slept on the night of Jan. 28. Their responses will be noted and a handful of follow-up questions will be asked.
Blackwell said that volunteers will go out to places where homeless people are known to gather and will also be at places where homeless people typically get services, in hopes of getting the most accurate response.
"We're going to have soup-and-sandwich opportunities throughout the city to help encourage people to come in and be counted," Blackwell said.