A door-to-door census collects U.S. demographic info, but if you don’t have a door you don’t count. On Jan. 30 there will be a street count, which means every homeless person found on the streets as well as in shelters will be accounted for. Unsheltered people will be asked to fill out a form detailing where they are staying and how long they have been homeless, while also providing other information about their current state.
During 2012’s One Night Homeless Count, 2,140 homeless people were found. That one-night count only included people in shelters and not on the street, so organizers Joanna Bernstein and Michael Carrigan of Community Alliance of Lane County (CALC) are concerned that this troubling number isn’t even close to Lane County’s total.
“The numbers are alarming,” Carrigan says. “The number of people who are living on the streets indicates a very serious problem that needs to be dealt with by the local government. We feel that housing is a human right that every person is entitled to. It’s part of that effort that everybody can be housed in Lane County.”
Influencing the public and local government to take action is one goal, but so is making the people living in dire situations feel like they are somebody and, in turn, give them a sense of belonging.
“To count somebody, you are kind of legitimizing their existence as an individual to say that we recognize that you are there,” Bernstein says. “Even though this isn’t a comprehensive survey — it’s just kind of enough information to see where somebody is at — for some folks revealing this amount of information to somebody who is listening and really wants to know that can be a very empowering and healing experience for them.”
In its effort to help the homeless, CALC will be working with other organizations, including SLEEPS (Safe Legally Entitled Emergency Places to Sleep) and Opportunity Village Eugene.
“They are going to help us,” Carrigan says. “They are going to be going out and talk to other homeless people. They have their relationships; they know where to go, so it is going to be a real grassroots effort.”
Positively affecting the minds of the homeless and giving them the shelter they need are the main objectives. CALC thinks Eugene’s effort can create a domino effect of assistance and empowerment. “We can set an example for the entire nation, having these safe, temporary places,” Carrigan says. “Eugene can do it. We are really pushing the city to make that happen.”