Organizations take homeless count

Catawba County participated in a homeless count Wednesday to determine the number of people living day-to-day on area streets.

Troy Jones, 47, of Hickory, is one of those people. He has been homeless for about nine months after he lost his landscaping job.

"It hit me hard," Jones said. "I couldn't pay my rent."

Jones was one of many people who came to be counted Wednesday at Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministry, one of five counting locations throughout Catawba County.

Most of the time, Jones sleeps in a tent. He has permission from the property owner to set up his camp on the lot. But on cold, rainy days, like Wednesday, Jones finds shelter elsewhere, such as Grace House homeless day shelter on Highland Avenue in Hickory. Grace House was another counting location Wednesday.

Although Jones has been homeless for less than a year, Wednesday wasn't the first time he came to GHCCM. He's been coming to the ministry for its crisis-intervention services for more than 15 years.

"It's a relief knowing that somebody's helping," Jones said. "They can get me what I need."

Everyone who came to be counted Wednesday was asked to complete surveys about their lifestyles. The surveys included questions about participants' length of homelessness, where they will spend Wednesday night, long-term illness or addictions and the primary reason for homelessness.

In exchange, participants receive items to help with their situations, such as backpacks, blankets, flashlights and coats. Chick-fil-A also provided food.

The homeless population also had the opportunity to receive testing for health problems, like diabetes, HIV or high blood pressure.

Those incentives are used to encourage the homeless population to attend the count, to ensure numbers are as accurate as possible.

And while participants benefit from the homeless count, so do the organizations who help count Catawba County's homeless men and women.

"The point of it is to count the homeless for county, state and federal dollars," said Dr. Roger Baker, GHCCM executive director.

Organizations can then take those allocated funds and further their missions to serve the area's needy and underprivileged.

Baker said he's seen the homeless population increase from year to year, and this year he expects will be no different.

The homeless population increased by 12 percent from 2009 to 2010. According to Housing Visions Continuum of Care data, about 61 percent of 2010's homeless population in Catawba County were male; 30 percent were female; and about 9 percent were children.

Even if, as Baker predicted, the increase in homelessness continues, there are still organizations in Catawba County willing to help those in need.

"There's been an outpouring from those who have the financial capability to help the homeless," said Newton city manager Todd Clark.

Churches in Newton, such as Trinity Baptist and First Presbyterian, offer support to the city's homeless population. First Presbyterian Church holds its Room in the Inn program on nights where temperatures are colder than 25 degrees.

Homeless people in the city can stay at the First Presbyterian Church overnight, enjoying a warm meal and bed.

Clark said the city didn't have any definite information about its homeless population, and he couldn't speculate about any trends for the city.

He did say, however, that homeless and unemployment in the community are related.

"I would assume that there is a correlation between homelessness and unemployment and foreclosure rates," he said.

Other locations in Catawba County who held homeless counts include Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Catawba, First United Methodist Church in Newton and Rehobeth Methodist Church in Terrell.

The count is conducted annually by Housing Visions Continuum of Care, and data collected at Wednesday's count will be compiled in the coming weeks.