JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - If you're looking for a way to give back and volunteer in your community, the Homeless Coalition is looking for you.
It needs a couple hundred people willing to go out in Duval, Nassau and Clay counties next week to get a count of the number of people who are homeless.
The count is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of a national census of the homeless population.
The homeless count is something done every year. Its purpose is two-fold: It's required by the government to get an accurate count of the homeless population, but also to get more information from homeless people willing to talk.
The goal is to move the most vulnerable off the streets as fast as possible.
According to last year's count, nearly 3,000 people were homeless in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties. The Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition of Northeast Florida is preparing to head out for another count.
"We've been doing this for over 10 years," said Dawn Gilman, CEO of the coalition. "It is our best way to track if we are moving the needle in the right direction. We not only just count the raw numbers but we also survey as many people that are willing to talk to us."
Gilman said the needle has been moving in the right direction, but slowly. Last year, the coalition was able to survey 520 individuals in Duval, Clay and Nassau Counties. The total number of homeless individuals counted in all three counties was 2,767.
"Our most significant drop has been in what we call chronically homeless individuals, people with a disability that have been on the street for a year or more," she said. "That has been a real intense focus of our continuum for the past three to five years and we've seen a significant drop in that."
The coalition's biggest concerns right now is homeless families. Gilman said that number has remained consistent for the last three years and homeless youth are the biggest unmet need. Gilman said homeless people ages 18-22 have the least amount of resources dedicated to them.
Using a survey tool, volunteers will go out next week to try to see if anything has changed.
"It asks questions that help us know how medically or vulnerable someone is, how likely they are to come to harm or death if they remain on the streets," Gilman said. "The idea is to get the people who are most vulnerable into permanent housing the fastest, the quickest. It prioritizes people."
The coalition needs a couple hundred people to volunteer for the count. In Duval County, volunteers can meet the group downtown at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday and go with a small group to an assigned zone.
There you can read more, sign up to volunteer and register for training. The last training is 6 p.m. Tuesday at WJCT-TV.
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