HAVEN looks to count homeless population
For the first time in recent memory — possibly ever — Lee County will have an accurate count of how many homeless people reside within its bounds.
Led by HAVEN (Helping Abuse and Violence End Now) of Lee County, local volunteers are going to join a national campaign to tally the homeless population during a single 24-hour period. That assessment will then determine how much federal funding local homeless programs will receive from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Between Jan. 30 and 31, volunteers will count those staying in shelters as well as those staying outside, in cars or in abandoned buildings. An informational session will be held at noon today at HAVEN's offices at 215 Bracken Street, where the initiative will be discussed, and anyone who wants to attend is welcome.
HAVEN has done such studies — called point-in-time counts — before, said executive director Kenosha Davenport. But those counts (and thus the funds coming from HUD) only included the families staying at its shelter for domestic abuse victims, which can hold about 30 people.
"Issues surrounding homelessness are very near and dear to us," she said. "You can only stay at our shelter for 90 days. After that 90 days, it's difficult to find affordable housing here in Lee County."
Davenport said there are as many as 120 people in various shelters across the county, most of them operated by churches. The Sanford Housing Authority operates an emergency shelter, said Executive Director Ken Armstrong, which can hold up to six people for as long as a month and is reserved for those who find themselves suddenly out of their homes.
Like many of the other shelters in the area, it's full. And with so few vacancies in Lee County — including in HAVEN's transitional housing program — Davenport said she believes some people are staying outside of shelters. What's unclear is how many there are and where they are, especially since Lee County's rural setting provides plenty of spots to set up camp undetected.
For that reason, Davenport encouraged anyone who knows of places where homeless people live to let the group know by calling HAVEN at (919) 774-8923. People with questions about the meeting or the count itself can call the same number.
Heather Hooper, the Sanford Housing Authority manager for Section 8 housing, said she has 10 units specifically reserved for unemployed homeless people with disabilities, which include physical and mental disabilities as well as physiological ones like drug addiction or alcoholism.
Those units are full and will only become available when a resident is fully treated, gets a job or finds another type of housing. The third scenario is unlikely to happen soon, she said, because all 464 local Section 8 housing units — reserved for very-low-income families, the elderly and the disabled — are taken, and the waiting list is full as well.
"We try our best, but it's hard with budget cuts coming constantly," she said of getting people off the streets and into a house or apartment. However, just two weeks ago, some help did arrive when the Obama administration announced that Sanford was one of six cities in North Carolina chosen to receive help creating more Section 8 housing, as well as getting rental assistance and rent supplement funding.
Community and government leaders will meet Feb. 11 to discuss grant applications and other options for helping the community's homeless and those who look after them. More information is available by calling the Sanford/Lee County Community Development Department at (919) 777-1113 or emailing Karen Kennedy, the department's manager, at email@example.com.
What: Informational meeting for people interested in helping count the number of homeless people in Lee County
When: Noon today
Where: HAVEN of Lee County, 215 Bracken Street
Who: Anyone is welcome to attend