Stephanie Arrington, a Lander University junior Sociology major from Walhalla, formed a bond with homeless individuals while volunteering at a local soup kitchen on Sundays. Because of the relationships she developed, she jumped at the chance to help with the annual Point-in-Time homeless census in late January.
"I worked at both the Lutheran Soup Kitchen on and the Greenwood Soup Kitchen during the census, and talked with them about their living arrangements," she said. "With their approval, their information was into a form that will help us achieve a more accurate count on homelessness (in our area)," she explained.
The Point-in-Time census is federally mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and is coordinated through the S.C. Upstate Continuum of Care, an umbrella organization of individuals and agencies that provide housing and other services to those experiencing homelessness as they transition to more stable living situations.
"The Point-in-Time count is essential because it gives an estimate of the number of people who need our services, and it helps us to better distribute those resources," explained Candace Timmerman, a Lander alumna who works as Housing and Urban Development case manager/Grants Coordinator for Meg's House in Greenwood. She is also the president of the Greenwood, Abbeville, McCormick, Edgefield and Saluda chapter of the Continuum of Care and President of the Advisory Council for the Upstate Continuum of Care.
According to Timmerman, the Point-in-Time count is critical for the most effective coordination and use of federal, state and local funding.
"The count is conducted each year on specific nights in January," she explained, "and the results are then submitted to HUD for more in-depth analysis. After all of the information has been examined, HUD will present its findings to members of Congress and then Congress makes decisions on the allocation of funds. It's especially important to us at a local level because there are many agencies within our community and Continuum who provide help for those experiencing homelessness."
While initial reports from this year's Point-in-Time count are not yet available, results from the 2017 count indicated a decline in the number of those without homes. While the 2016 count results showed 1,817 homeless persons in the state, the 2017 count resulted a decrease to 1,317.
While those numbers are encouraging, the Point-in-Time count is a snapshot in time, and intended to serve as a rough guide as to what and how much is needed to help those in need. Because the count is conducted on specific nights only, not every person who would be classified as homeless can be accounted for and participation is voluntary.
Because participation in the count can make some individuals uncomfortable, the work of volunteers like Arrington is essential. "I wanted to help (with the count) because I was familiar with many of the people from working at the soup kitchen, and I felt it would be easier for them to talk with me because a bond had already been formed. It's all about making someone comfortable enough to talk in hopes of getting them the help they need," she said.