Dozens of volunteers and agencies in both Calhoun and Kalamazoo counties mobilized last week to gain a better understanding of the local homeless population and its needs through the 2018 Point-In-Time Count.
Conducted annually as a federal mandate by Housing and Urban Development, the counts provide key information that is used locally, at the statewide level and nationally to inform future planning and programming. Volunteers counted homeless individuals who were both sheltered and unsheltered on the night of Jan. 31, and collected other crucial data points through confidential surveys and forms.
Housing Resources Inc. (HRI) in Kalamazoo and Summit Pointe in Battle Creek, both funded partners of United Way, conduct the count in partnership with many community organizations including homeless service providers as well as public safety departments, park departments and more.
“The PIT Count is very important to understanding our homeless population, identifying trends, being responsive to special sub-populations as well as giving us the opportunity to reach out and offer services/resources that are available,” said Victoria Huntington, of Summit Pointe. “Most importantly, it is an opportunity to establish trust and help our most vulnerable population.”
This year, volunteers in each community were equipped with care kits to hand out to individuals they encountered, containing items like lip balm, toothpaste and toothbrushes, combs and more. Advia Credit Union sponsored the 300 kits, and Advia employees at the Parchment branch assembled them as part of a United Way Pop Up Volunteer event in January.
“This will be the first year providing these kits, and we are very grateful,” said Jessica Garrison, of HRI, who led the PIT Count effort in Kalamazoo. “The individuals we are surveying are in need, of course, but also, their time is valuable and the giveaway shows that we understand that.”
For Advia, which launched the Advia ACTION (Advancing Community Ties in Our Neighborhoods) Volunteer program in 2015 and logged 1,300 volunteer hours in 2017, being able to complete the project on site made it easy to work around the scheduling restrictions that sometimes make off-site volunteering difficult, said West Main Branch Manager Lisa Bickings.
Taking scheduling concerns out of the equation allowed the team to focus solely on the purpose of the project.
“I enjoyed knowing what we were working on as a team was going back to those in need,” Bickings said. “I believe that all of us volunteering for this project found gratification knowing that our efforts would positively impact the homeless in our community.”
Contact United Way at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about Pop Up Volunteering opportunities for your company.