The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

January 23, 2013

Count in the Cold

Volunteers to number city’s homeless


DANVILLE — Teams of volunteers will search abandoned houses and buildings in the city next week in an effort to locate and count unsheltered homeless individuals and families.

The volunteers will be equipped with packaged food and blankets supplied by the Salvation Army, personal hygiene items from Crosspoint at the Your Family Resource Connection as well as information about resources and services available for the homeless in Danville.

Sharon Sawka, director of social services for the Danville Salvation Army, has participated in past local street sweeps. During those sweeps, only four to six people have been located, which is frustrating to volunteers who are fully aware of the community’s homeless issue.

“A lot of times, we don’t see people, we see signs of people,” Sawka said. “We see signs like blankets and bed rolls.

“It’s a little frustrating because you know there’s an issue,” she said.

Linda McLaughlin, care coordinator for Crosspoint Human Services/Your Family Resource Connection (YFRC), agreed.

“If we find two or three people, we’re doing really, really good,” she said. “We’ve found individuals in boxcars, dugouts at the parks and city parking garages.

“If we don’t find them, we find signs. We know we’ve just missed them, so we’ll just leave them blankets and food,” McLaughlin said.

“Some of them don’t want to be found, and we respect that,” she added.

The local street sweep is part of an annual nationwide Point in Time survey sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD requires the unsheltered homeless population be measured through a “point in time” count, so street sweeps are conducted annually in late January across the nation.

The local survey also includes counting the sheltered homeless who are living in the Danville Rescue Mission for men and the Crosspoint/YFRC shelter for women and their children.

The goal of the count is to provide the most accurate numbers of the homeless, sheltered and unsheltered in the area and on one single night.

This is the third year that a local street sweep has been conducted in late January. In July, Danville volunteers also conducted the first street sweep in the summer.

In addition to the Salvation Army and Crosspoint/YFRC, the other local agencies and churches that will participate in next week’s street sweep include the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System, Danville Housing Authority, the City of Danville, East Central Illinois Community Action Program, Danville School District 118, Carter Metropolitan CME Church and Crossroads Christian Church.

Volunteers will assemble at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the parlor of the YFRC, 201 N. Hazel St.

Before venturing out, the volunteers will be briefed by the Danville Police Department on the usual places of the community’s homeless, places where homeless persons have been discovered by the police most recently, and places the homeless have been known to shelter in the past.

The teams will check abandoned buildings, alleyways, under bridge embankments and other known outdoor shelters in Danville to count the number of people sleeping in places “not meant for human habitation.”

The volunteers will follow a city-provided aerial map divided into 13 grids that show vacant buildings with their addresses superimposed on it.

The map extends from the Vermilion River north to Voorhees Street and from the river on the west with Logan Avenue to Danville Area Community College on the east.

“Each person gets a map of a certain grid so we can cover the city,” Sawka said. “We’ll look in open and abandoned houses and buildings. We go in groups of three or more because of safety issues.”

McLaughlin said there is generally “a tremendous amount of people involved” in conducting the street sweep.

“Last year, we had 70 people helping us,” she said. “Everybody brings in their team of coworkers and family.

“We had 13 teams (last year) and everyone was assigned an area. We had enough people to cover the city,” she said. “We try to get the sweep done as soon as possible. Before, it’s taken us two to three hours.”

All of the local agencies involved in the street sweep are members of the HUD-funded Central Illinois Continuum of Care.

The 13-county region covered by the Continuum involves human service agencies that receive homeless funds from McLean County to Vermilion and as far north as Kankakee.

During last year’s street sweep, also conducted in late January, volunteers found five homeless people; of those, three were veterans.

They also found a total of 44 single adults in the shelters — the Danville Rescue Mission (for men), Your Family Resource Connection (for women) and those in motels through the Salvation Army. Of those in shelters, nine were veterans and 14 were families — that is, a mother with children. There were 21 children.