Story and photo by JENNA BAILEY
On Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 5:30pm the Homelessness and Housing Alliance (HHA) held a Point-in-Time Count meeting at the Port Church in Freeport. An overview of what the Point-in-Time count is and why HHA does it: The Point-in-Time Count is intended to provide a snapshot of a community’s homeless population. It is one way to collectively understand the scope and breadth of homelessness in the nation and in individual communities. The count is an effort that ensures the voices of people experiencing homelessness in the community are heard and efforts are made to provide appropriate services. The count also helps communities develop more effective plans and measure progress towards ending homelessness. HHA Project Manager for Walton county, Dianne McManus, led the meeting. Committee topics discussed that evening regarded volunteers, services, and events. Following committee topics was a discussion of surveys and action items.
McManus began the meeting with conveying the substantial need for volunteers that HHA and other local organizations are in need of – including assisting at the cold night shelters and church functions. She suggested that those attending make an effort to recruit volunteers by spreading the word through methods such as circulating posters and flyers. She said that one way they failed last year was by not getting the flyers to locations such as schools – as many teachers contacted her wishing that they had known about the events and services being held so that they could share them with families in need. McManus also spoke about volunteer training for documenting individuals that come into the cold night shelters, taking surveys, and overall making sure that volunteers feel comfortable and confident in their abilities to execute the tasks they are given.
A suggestion from an attendee at the meeting recommended having high school-age students volunteer for HHA as a part of community credit hours. Another topic regarded services provided by HHA and how to better provide for citizens in need of assistance. Some services gathered by HHA are acquiring a dental clinic to provide free dental check-ups, purchasing gas and fast food gift cards to pass out for their outreach program as well as going to businesses and asking if they would like to donate gift cards. For individuals who have suddenly lost everything they have to circumstances such as a house fire – McManus mentioned Humanity ReStore which often will donate items such as essential appliances for free in these instances and said that she planned to contact the organization to see if they may provide vouchers for necessities. Another service recommended was providing “Blessing Bags” packed with necessities such as hygiene products, snacks, gift cards and other easy to travel with essentials. Services provided every year are Basic Health Screenings provided by Northwest Florida State College Nurses, SNAP applications, and a Mobile ID Unit. SNAP applications and basic health screenings require locations with privacy. The Mobile ID Unit requires a space to park the bus.
A statement by Dianne McManus: “You can go to our website www.hhalliance.org to see the numbers from last year’s PIT Count and find out more about the Continuum of Care for Walton and Okaloosa County. There are always multiple opportunities to volunteer but the Point-in-Time Count is an overwhelming task and really does affect how effective we can all be in ending homelessness in our communities so we appreciate your time and talents so much. We use all these type of events that we are discussing for Jan. 26 not only to reach out and find the homeless but to also offer them much needed services so it is no small undertaking but so worth the extra time and effort.”
McManus also thanked new allies in the efforts to end homelessness in Walton County and surrounding counties: Lyvonnica McMillian Green, Lenore Garner Moulton, Matthew Price, Hilda Bragg Jackson, Jamie Ragan, Susan Sanders, Leslie Seay-Martin, Stephanie Bailey, Jan Adkinson Barton, Morgan Stewart and Pamela Stuart. The next HHA Point-in-Time Count meeting will be Jan. 26, 2018.