WINSTON-SALEM, NC – Every year on the last Wednesday in January, the lives of people experiencing homelessness have a greater potential to be changed, thanks to a program coordinated by United Way of Forsyth County (UWFC) and the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Continuum of Care.
Starting at 9 p.m. on January 25, dozens of volunteers will meet at Samaritan Ministries 414 E NW Blvd, and hit the streets throughout the night to count the number of people sleeping outside. The exercise, called Homeless Point-in-Time Count is a one-day, unduplicated count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals and families that happens across the country.
The event is part of a national initiative to measure and combat chronic homelessness. The goal is to give the local and federal government an idea of how many people are experiencing homelessness in the area, to make sure there are enough appropriate services to help them.
Two teams of volunteers will be organized into groups of four or five and in two shifts, 9 pm-12 am and 1am-4am. Organizers will be assembling bags of necessities to hand out to homeless men and women with donations of winter hats, scarves, hand warmers, individual tissue packets, sun screen, bottled water, canned foods with pop-tops or pre-packaged food, and plastic utensils. Before the volunteers take to the streets, they will receive training on personal safety, how to identify homeless individuals, where homeless individuals may be sleeping and how to survey individuals experiencing homelessness.
This is the final count during the 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. In October 2015, Winston-Salem was certified as having met the goal of ending veteran homelessness. Now the community is attempting to end chronic homelessness by 2017. Both of these milestones are part of Built for Zero, a national campaign to end veteran and chronic homelessness.
Information learned from previous counts has helped officials to develop more efficient resource programs to better serve the homeless. For example, the community intake center helps connect people who are homeless to supportive housing resources based on their vulnerability instead of first come basis.
Forsyth County resource programs have been changed from accepting individuals on a first-come, first-serve basis to a need priority basis.