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Volunteer Army Extends A Helping Hand

Volunteers provide man power during the single, 24-hour period Point-In-Time Count

Alarms went off around 4 a.m. Coffee pots brewed strong coffee. Rain jackets were grabbed on the way out the door. And Point-In-Time Count volunteers were on their way. More than 330 sets of feet hit the streets of Hillsborough County Thursday, February 23, for this year's Point-In-Time Count.

For more than 20 years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has required a count of the homeless community in large populated areas during a single, 24-hour period - known as the Point-in-Time Count. Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative (THHI) now leads the mandatory count in Hillsborough County by working with community partners, including the County's Homeless Services, to put together this snapshot of the homeless population.

To get an accurate count, THHI must survey all over the 1,136 square miles, rural and urban, of Hillsborough County. But to make this happen, a lot of manpower is needed to cover all that ground.

That's where the small army of volunteers come in. The volunteers are the ones who go out to the streets, starting as early as 5 a.m., with the survey sheets that contain questions specific to this population, such as "Are you a veteran?" and "Where did you sleep last night?" The answers to those questions determine how the County moves forward in addressing the needs of the homeless.

Vicki Walker, the minister of mission and outreach at Hyde Park United Methodist Church, was one of the volunteers. But Vicki isn't a rookie at this; she has been volunteering for the count for more than 12 years and recognizes why this day matters to the community.

 

"The Point-in-Time Count is so important to our community. And I would love for more people to be involved with it. Frankly, the more volunteers we have, the more homeless folks we can count and the more dollars we're leveraging for our community to meet community needs," she said.

Over the course of three shifts that saw both sun and rain, volunteers clad in red shirts split into small teams of three to five and deployed throughout the county. Volunteers were given specific instructions on the areas they were being deployed to and how to approach those experiencing homelessness who needed to be counted.

Being a Point-in-Time Count veteran, Vicki knew what to expect. She saw this day, not as a day to count the homeless, but a day to meet new people. "It's just people talking to people. People connecting with people. Hearing some stories you haven't heard before, and recognizing we are all the same. That's why I love working with these people."

Now that the Point-In-Time Count is over, the surveys will be analyzed and allow THHI and Hillsborough County to develop strategies on how to better serve the homeless population.

"I think the homeless problem is a community problem that requires a community solution. It's going to require all of us to come together: government, business owners, private citizens, and nonprofits. There is no one entity that can completely solve this by themselves. We all have to come together."

Last year's survey results showed a 5.9 percent decrease in homelessness since 2014. The hope of all the volunteers, including Vicki, is that the decrease continues in the 2017 results.

Photo Information: Mural on the side of The Portico in downtown Tampa titled, "For Love of THIS City." Point-in-Time Count Volunteers deployed throughout Hillsborough County to count the homeless, including The Portico, on a day that was dreary but full of hope and love.



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