Volunteers throughout Beaufort County worked Saturday to uncover more details about the area's largely invisible homeless population.
Members of the Beaufort County Community Services Organization, area churches and human services groups scoured Beaufort, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island in attempt to count how many people live on the streets or in buildings without running water and electricity. The "Everyone Counts" event also was held at the Boys and Girls Club of Beaufort County to take homeless surveys and provide food, clothing and health services.
The surveys question the homeless on where they live and if they are employed, among other information. The template for the surveys is regulated by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. The surveys are taken every two years. The agency awards grants to the area based how many homeless people are counted, according to Fred Leyda of Beaufort County's Human Services Alliance.
The alliance and the community services organization has been revising its counting methods since 2009, when its survey showed there were fewer than 17 homeless people in Beaufort County, Leyda said.
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"Obviously that didn't seem quite right," he said. "We began having events and taking surveys every 6 months and focused on building relationships with them so they'd begin to tell us the real problems they face."
It will take until at least the beginning of February to know how many people were counted this year, but Leyda said activists expect a larger number than in 2011 -- the last time an official survey was taken -- which revealed 211 homeless people.
At the Boys and Girls Club, more than 200 people were fed. More than 150 were included in the surveys.
"It's already almost double what we had when we counted in 2011...," Leyda said. He said that number doesn't include the neighborhood counts.
Forty-three people were seen by a volunteer doctor or nurse, 25 got flu shots and four saw a dentist, Leyda said. Others got clothing from Good Will, talked to Veterans Affairs representatives and sought information from the Child Abuse Prevention Association and Citizens Opposed to Domestic Violence organizations.
Leyda and other volunteers suspect they're only reaching a small portion of the homeless. Many are hesitant to talk to strangers for fear of being arrested or out of shame about their situation,Leyda said. Leyda said more women and children have become homeless since the economic downturn four years ago. He said there are currently 109 children of homeless families in the Beaufort County School District. Families are often the most difficult to reach because they fear the state Department of Social Services will take their children away. The district has programs to place homeless children with friends or family to ensure they have a stable roof over their heads, Leyda said.
Almost as many volunteers as homeless showed up at the Boys and Girls Club.
Raymond Wayne, a 17-year-old student at Battery Creek High School, said his volunteer experience was a moving one.
"I was surprised by how many children came in," he said. "It was humbling."
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