Local Homeless Survey Underway

President George Bush announced plans this week to hand out a record 1-point-4 billion dollars in grants to help thousands of homeless individuals and families across America.

But under a new federal mandate, local agencies must have an accurate count of their area's homeless population to receive the funding.

This is why volunteers with the Homeless and Hunger Coalition of Northwest Florida are kicking into high gear to find out just how many people in a 6-county area live on the streets.

More than 50 volunteers took to the streets of Bay, Gulf, Holmes, Calhoun, Jackson and Washington counties to find out just how many people are living without a permanent home. They're doing it for federal funding, but more importantly they're doing it to find out the true needs of homeless men and women in our area.

Some say the true strength of a community is measured by the weakest citizens. That's why volunteers with the Homeless and Hunger Coalition of Northwest Florida are working to get these men and women off the streets.

Margaret Stroud is one of the volunteers. "I know we can only touch the tip of the iceberg, because they're not always evident. But they're there. We need to find out how we can further assist them."

They're knocking on doors of local motels, hitting area grocery outlets and temporary work agencies to find out just how many homeless people there really are in our area. Coalition officials say Uncle Sam has a check for 450-thousand dollars with Northwest Florida's name on it, but the feds need an official count of the area's homeless population before they sign the money over.

These volunteers are trying to get each homeless person to fill out one of these surveys to identify who they are and how long they've been homeless. But the most important question probably comes on the back of the survey when they ask which services and programs they really need.

Volunteer Bill Mayhew says the major problem is evident. "The biggest problem we're faced with is housing. There's just not enough beds in Bay County. The survey is going to back that up."

He is also hoping the survey backs up funding for drug and alcohol programs, as well as vocational training to get homeless men and women back on their feet.

An estimated 12-hundred homeless people walked the streets of Bay County during a statistical survey taken 2-years ago. Coalition officials say this time around the number will be much more higher.