MATTOON -- Volunteers are being sought for a Jan. 25 count of homeless individuals in the Coles County area, a count that will help determine the level of federal grant funding for related social service programs.
The Embarras River Basin Agency is conducting this annual Point In Time count as part of its long-term goal of offering services to help end homelessness in the area, said ERBA Operations Manager Susie Beaumont. She is the lead for the South Central Illinois Continuum of Care, a network of organizations and individuals that are partnering to address homelessness.
Beaumont said the count meets U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant requirements for homeless service providers to survey the amount of homeless individuals in their area. She said the count records those living in HUD housing, voucher lodging and homeless shelters, plus those living in abandoned buildings, public places, vehicles, tents and other situations in which they are considered to be "unsheltered."
"We want to find those individuals who are not being given the resources that they need," Beaumont said, adding it is important to get them out of the bitter cold and into housing of some kind. She said the 2017 count recorded 108 homeless individuals in the area, including 32 living in "unsheltered" situations.
Beaumont said the count provides an opportunity for ERBA to connect homeless individuals with Catholic Charities, The Salvation Army and other organizations that may be able to help them. She said there is a shortage of temporary emergency housing options available in the region. She said Mattoon Area PADS is the only homeless shelter in the continuum's 18-county area now that the shelter in Effingham has closed.
"We have to do a lot of calling around to see what resources are available," Beaumont said.
The Point in Time count in the Mattoon area is being organized with the help of Jarrick Honn, who is the supportive services for veteran families case manager for The Salvation Army. Honn said Thursday is the deadline for signing up to volunteer for the count. He said volunteers could be taken later, but they need time to train for using the count's survey forms.
Honn said volunteers can sign up as individuals or as part of churches and other organizations, adding that they will work in pairs or in larger groups. He said they will conduct their counts in libraries, laundries and other indoor spaces where homeless individuals warm up in winter; parking lots where they sleep in vehicles; and parks and other unofficial camp sites.
For example, Honn said previous counts have recorded homeless individuals and found camp sites along the Lincoln Prairie Grass Recreation Trail that runs from Mattoon to Charleston and along railroads tracks.
"I think a lot of it is out of sight, out of mind. It is a larger issue here than most people believe it is," Honn said, adding those most homeless individuals remain in their communities. "We want to make sure we have accurate numbers and an accurate count to make sure we are making a difference."
Those who would like to volunteer for the count or share information on the possible location of homeless individuals can contact Honn at 217-493-3103 or ERBA Fieldworker Taneya Higginbotham at 217-345-4840.