published Friday, January 31st, 2014

Counting on help: Homeless population census ends today in Chattanooga

Erin Creal of Chattanooga Room in the Inn, left, talks with Charles Partridge in the dayroom of the Chattanooga Community Kitchen on Thursday as a group of volunteers collects information for a survey of the homeless population in the area.
Erin Creal of Chattanooga Room in the Inn, left, talks with Charles Partridge in the dayroom of the Chattanooga Community Kitchen on Thursday as a group of volunteers collects information for a survey of the homeless population in the area.
Photo by John Rawlston.
  • photo
    Sherrie Raines and Danielle Contarino speak to some homeless people on Thursday. Raines and Contarino were part of one of the groups that went to survey the homeless population.
    Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
    enlarge photo

The Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition will complete its annual Point-in-Time count of homeless people today in hopes of generating at least $2.8 million in funding to serve them.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandates that the count be done each January and awards the coalition grant money based on the number counted.

The area usually gets about $2.8 million that funds 17 programs hosted by nine agencies under the coalition umbrella.

The agencies, including Southeast Tennessee Human Resource Agency, Chattanooga Room in the Inn, and the Council for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services, provide case management, shelter and substance abuse counseling. The city's homeless population numbers more than 600 people, according to coalition officials.

However, some people who are homeless question how much of the federal money benefits them.

"I just want to know if it's going to good use," 36-year-old Shannon Mills said Thursday.

"They barely want to give us stuff, like extra food. If you're still hungry they just talk bad to you," he said.

Nora Stough, 55, a homeless diabetic who often eats at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, also talked about wanting more food.

"There's just not enough of it," she said.

The Chattanooga Community Kitchen receives funding from the HUD grant. It serves three meals every day to hundreds of people -- more than 180,000 meals per year, according to its website.

Stephen Wright, executive director of the homeless coalition, is concerned some programs may not be funded this year because 5 percent of the federal money was part of the federal sequester.

Wright said the programs are ranked based on performance. The bottom two or three programs may be cut, he said, but coalition officials don't know that yet for sure. Nor do they have any control over it, he said.

Wright said one program at risk is operated by the Homeless Coalition. A cut would not affect the number of people being served, he said. Of the other two, one might be trimmed and the other eliminated, he said.

Homeless coalition staff, board members and other volunteers, started their count at 10:45 a.m. Thursday at the Community Kitchen and were to continue it for 24 hours.

Coalition officials said they had intended to start the count Wednesday and Thursday while Project Connect was going on at the National Guard Armory. But Project Connect was canceled because of the weather.

Wright joined between 30 and 40 volunteers, including coalition board members and staff, who walked through the homeless community gathering information and writing it down on clipboards.

Volunteers counted homeless people in hotels, at the Salvation Army, in shelters and in outdoor tent cities.

The survey asked for the person's name, interview location, date of birth, gender, marital status, and if the person has children. It asks where he slept last night, if she has a permanent disability or is a military veteran, whether he has mental illness, substance abuse or HIV/AIDS, or has experienced domestic violence.

The grant application deadline is Feb. 3. Wright said he expects to know how much money the coalition will get back and what programs will be funded by the end of March.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or call 423-757-6431.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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