This past Wednesday, some 30 students and community members bundled up in their warmest winter gear and assembled at the Liberal Arts in Practice Center for the biannual Rock County Homeless Count. Groups of volunteers were assigned to different designated areas of the city to look for people in parks, lots, bars, and convenience stores who don’t have a place to sleep. The count also includes people living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, safe havens for the homeless, or domestic violence shelters.
The point-in-time count is intended to collect data on the number of people experiencing homelessness in the community during a designated one-night period, and is conducted on a national level. The information collected gives a “snapshot” of what homelessness looks like in a neighborhood, city, or state. Data is reported to the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report, which is provided to the U.S. Congress.
At 10 p.m. volunteers gathered in the LAPC for a brief orientation from Marc Perry, director of development and planning at Community Action and organizer of the Rock County Homeless Count for the past seven years. Perry explained the purpose of the count, what volunteers need to do, and the importance of being sensitive and respectful.
“It is our hope that we find nobody,” says Perry as he explained the count. “It’s cold out there tonight, and we hope everyone has somewhere warm to sleep.”
After completing the orientation, Perry assigned group leaders and groups set off to search their designated areas. Each group went out with the necessary paperwork and care packages in the event that they found someone. The organizers of the Homeless Count are also able to offer two-week hotel vouchers to anyone who needs them.
After spending three chilly hours driving and walking all over Beloit, volunteers reassembled in the LAPC at 2 a.m. for hot beverages and final words from Perry. Fortunately, no one was found outside for the unsheltered count—but if nothing else, according to one volunteer, the count gave a sense of the difficulties people experiencing homelessness face in Beloit and drew attention to an issue that is often invisible in our society.