'Point in Time Count' aims to find Atlas Township homeless Jan. 26.
January 12, 2011 - As a relatively affluent, rural community, homelessness wouldn't appear to exist in Atlas Township.
However, Township Clerk Tere Onica knows otherwise and "homeless" does not necessarily mean a person with a shopping cart full of belongings hanging out near a street corner.
"I've heard of some people who could use some help," said Onica, who was contacted by representatives from Housing and Urban Development to see if the township hall could be used as a center for counting homeless in the area. "Homeless can be 'couch hoppers,' people who don't have permanent residences, but move from one person's couch to another, or someone who is living in a barn or abandoned home. If the state wants to eradicate homelessness, they need to determine where the homeless are and how many there are."
From 6-9 p.m. on Jan. 26, the Lakeview Community Church, 10023 S. State Road (M-15 and Kipp Road), will be a host site for the Point in Time Count, an effort to determine how many homeless there are on a given night.
The count is performed every two years, but this is the first time Atlas Township is participating. Lakeview Church is one of about 30 host centers in Genesee County, where homeless persons are encouraged to come and complete a questionnaire, as well as receive a gift bag with food items and a list of resources where they can seek help.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires any county that receives federal funding to participate in such a count once every two years. The amount of assistance received is based off the findings.
Gerry Leslie, HMIS (Homeless Management Information System) administrator for Metro Community Development in Flint, said with limited resources and ability to count, most counties focus on urban areas, where homelessness is highest. However, in an attempt to get complete coverage of the community, Genesee County has organized efforts in the outer areas of the county such as Goodrich.
In a multi-tiered approach, after the two days following the host site count, there will also be a count of homeless at soup kitchen and clothing distribution centers in the county. Trained professionals will also go out into the community and engage clients that may not be coming in for homeless services.
HUD defines "homeless" as people living in a place unfit for human habitation for in an emergency shelter designed for homeless clients, Leslie said. However, the state of Michigan also defines homeless as people known in the social services community as "couch surfers," people who stay with family or friends, frequently bouncing between homes.
Although the Point in Time Count is every other year, Genesee County does its own count annually. Last year, roughly 250 people were found in that count on a given night. Still, Leslie said a more telling number is the 3,000 unique individuals in the county who received homeless assistance over the course of the year.
"We have seen a lot more people in rural areas, spending the night in cars at shopping centers or in outlying areas," said Leslie. "There are people living in lean-to shanties and tent cities in Clio and Flushing. In 2009, the fastest growing population of homeless was homeless families. Half were homeless for the first time in 2009. They had held down consistent employment, but because of the economic situation, those opportunities have dried up. Typically, rural homeless migrate to urban areas, whether its Pontiac, Flint or Ann Arbor, in order to be able to take advantage of HUD services. Many homeless come from a more rural setting."
Jeremy Spear, pastor of Lakeview Community Church, as well as 13 members of his congregation, participated in the homeless count last year in the Flint area and adopted three homeless men as a result.
"This Sunday will mark a year since our church got involved," he said. "It's been an incredible year. Two of the homeless men no longer need our assistance, and one guy we still take supplies to weekly. He lives in the Court and Center area and has literally lived under a tree for more than five years... A person from our church takes him food, clothes, new blankets. The only request he's ever made was to have hard candy. He doesn't beg, but is very appreciative of what we do. He's not a predator or criminal, the city of Flint knows he's there. He's not hurting anybody, so no one bothers him. He's a veteran and under medical care."
Spear continued, "Every community has homeless. If you know of someone staying in a home with no utilities, or no permanent residence, or staying on someone's couch, let them know about the count."
For more information, call Lakeview Community Church at 810-636-7541.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville