Annual survey tries to gauge homelessness

Officials with service agencies around Mesa County this week are asking some pointed questions to better gauge the numbers and situations of homeless individuals living here.

The annual Point in Time Study, which is generally conducted in late January, this year queries folks on where they slept the night of Jan. 22. Results of the study are used to determine the demographics of homeless folks to better meet their needs. Grand Junction police officers with the Homeless Outreach Team queried people who live along the Colorado River about their status. Workers in other agencies, such as Latimer House and the Rescue Mission, also are asking people about their housing situations.

On Wednesday, Mollie Woodard, operations manager of the Homeward Bound of the Grand Valley homeless shelter, spoke with a number of people who were lining up for lunch outside the soup kitchen at Grand Valley Catholic Outreach, 245 S. First St.

“How many times have you been in the ER this year?” she asked one man, who answered about two or three. She also asked the man whether he had trouble with substance abuse or had a mental illness.

Woodard said this year’s survey, which is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, counts both people who stay at homeless shelters and others who are homeless but don’t stay at shelters. Combining the two sets of numbers may be more representative of the true numbers of total populations of homeless people, she said.

“If you’re just looking at people who stay in the shelter, it skews it,” Woodard said.

There were 768 homeless people in Mesa County in 2011, according to last year’s study.

Results of this year’s study should be released soon.

Woodard said so far it appears the numbers again will be high because economic conditions have remained stagnant for those who had trouble staying in their homes.

People without a home but are couch surfing, paying to stay at a motel, staying with friends and family, in jail or in a hospital or other detoxification facility are not considered homeless, according to the HUD criteria.

“Frankly the numbers aren’t going down,” Woodard said of homeless individuals. “This is a commitment to help the 10-year plan. It helps us know what our real numbers are.”


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