While the next U.S. Census is years away, volunteers across the country, including right here in Barnwell County, are preparing to conduct a census of the homeless population.
Around 20 Barnwell County volunteers recently received training to take part in the 2014 Point in Time Count - a one-day census of the homeless population across the country.
Volunteers will spread across the county Jan. 23 to identify those who are homeless. Identified individuals will be asked to fill out a survey form.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) uses the data to determine where to distribute funds aimed at helping the homeless population. "The survey is critical so we can get attention and funds we need to address the problem," said Pam Rush with the Axis 1 Center of Barnwell.
Funds could provide a homeless shelter, a resource that is currently lacking in Barnwell County.
Rush said she hopes this year's survey will provide a more accurate picture of homelessness in Barnwell County, as the 2013 survey suggested there are no homeless.
Rush said last year's results are primarily due to not having a "focused effort" locally and HUD's definition of homelessness.
"What you and I think of homeless is not what HUD considers homeless," said Rush.
HUD defines homelessness in two categories: sheltered and unsheltered. Sheltered are those who stay in an emergency shelter, rescue mission, domestic violence shelter or hotel room that's paid for with public or private funds. Unsheltered homeless are individuals or families who lack a regular shelter and sleep in places not meant for human habitation, such as cars, under bridges, in tents or in abandoned buildings, according to the training presentation volunteers underwent.
They do not include those who are sleeping on someone else's couch, even if they lack a home of their own. Instead, HUD calls this being "doubled up," said Rush.
While those who are doubled up won't count in the survey, Rush said it's important to make contact with them "so we can get an accurate picture of what's going on in Barnwell County." She added how there are resources available for those who are homeless.
All participants in the survey will receive a cold weather packet containing a hat, gloves and scarf.
In addition to seeking out individuals Jan. 23, several other opportunities will be available to connect with the homeless, including a lunch at the Blackville Community Center Jan. 24 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. In Williston, the town hall will be open Jan. 24 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for homeless to come by and take part in the survey. The Axis 1 Center will have forms until Jan. 29, though the survey revolves around where people slept the night of Jan. 23.
Anyone interested in volunteering with the survey can call Pam Rush at (803) 541-1245.
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