JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Before the sun rose above the River City on Wednesday, volunteers with Changing Homelessness and other groups hit the ground in downtown Jacksonville, counting the number of people without homes.
The goal is to better gauge where the needs are and how to help.
Volunteers in groups were given zone maps. When they spotted someone, they went up to them, talked to them, listened to their story and handed them care packages.
Charles Garrison spoke with a woman who’s been without a home for seven months.
“Just had some issues with family trouble upstate in Pennsylvania. She’s slowly made her way down,” Garrison said. “We were able to provide her with a hygiene kit and some resources here locally.”
Each visit was counted through an app. The volunteers then take this information to determine that they have the right mix of programs to help them. Dawn Gilman, CEO for Changing Homelessness, said the count is crucial.
“It doesn’t immediately solve the problem, but it gives us more information to try to make better decisions and hopefully get more funding so we’re better able to assist more folks,” Gilman said.
Counting those without homes and having the information allows the organization to understand how to direct resources in the most helpful way, and how to make a case for more resources if the need is there.
For Laura Lane, the experience is eye-opening every time.
“I hope people take away from this the fact that these are our neighbors,” Lane said. “Homelessness is -- it’s solvable. We can solve it. We can reduce it and especially with specific populations, we can end homelessness. Absolutely.”
Volunteers will also be conducting counts in Clay and Nassau counties, plus other areas of Jacksonville and the Beaches.
It’ll be some time before the final numbers are known.
Anyone interested in possibly becoming a volunteer or learning about ways to help can visit: changinghomelessness.org.