LUMBERTON — Robeson County will try to get a handle on the number of local homeless people when it joins municipalities and counties across the nation in an annual homeless count.
The Point-in-Time Count, which takes place late Wednesday and Thursday, is the one 24-hour period each year that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development permits homeless populations to be counted to amend Census figures to give a more accurate picture of a community’s total population.
”The homeless are an invisible population and undocumented,” said Rhoda Emanuel, the regional leader for the Southeastern Regional Housing Committee, which oversees housing issues in Robeson, Scotland, Bladen and Columbus counties. “They don’t pay taxes, but they do use services.
“This is a very important task. It is important that homeless populations be documented accurately. Documentation is the first step of getting programs in Robeson County to assist the homeless. Any service program is based on statistical data,” she said.
According to Emanuel, Robeson County last year reported a Point-in-Time Count of 85 homeless people.
Two temporary shelters are being opened from 6 p.m. Wednesday to 7 a.m. Thursday — one at the Lumbee Tribe’s Boys and Girls Club on N.C. 711 just outside of Pembroke, and one at the Lumbee Tribe’s Boys and Girls Club on Singletary Church Road in Lumberton.
According to Emanuel, each shelter will be manned by volunteers and able to accommodate 50 people. Four vans will be stopping at designated sites throughout the county to transport homeless people to the shelter.
Millicent Collins, the county’s grant administrator and a coordinator for the effort, said a number of local businesses and organizations are donating supplies and services.
In addition to having a place to spend the night and take a shower, hot meals will be provided; flu shots, HIV testing and other medical screening will be administered; hygiene kits will be provided; and information will be available about services that can be utilized by the homeless and veterans.
Ronnie Brooks, the Lumbee Tribe’s Veterans Services officer, said that anyone knowing homeless individuals who need to be transported to the shelter should call him at 910-522-2210 or 910-301-7667.
“You really need to see how the community is rallying around our homeless,” Brooks said.
Darlene Jacobs, executive director of the Robeson County Church and Community Center, said the county’s homeless population continues to grow.
“Not just individuals, but families, are being forced to be homeless because of economic conditions,” Jacobs said. “The community, however, is becoming aware of the homeless and their problems. This is a good way to reach out to a population that is going to continue to grow.”
Stuart Locklear, the tribe’s grants and planning manager, said that information collected during the Point-in-Time Count is important when applying for certain grants, such as those that can benefit veterans, the homeless and poor people.
“There are a lot of grants available for programs serving the low income,” Locklear said. “We (tribe) want to have programs that not just serve Lumbees, but serve all of Robeson County.”
Emanuel said that there has been “tremendous” support from throughout Robeson County as plans for the Point-in-Time Count have unfolded.
“No one that I’ve encountered has not volunteered to help,” she said. “I’m really excited about this. People really have genuine concerns about the homeless.
“My hope is that by conducting this event it may be the turning point in someone’s life.”