WATERTOWN — Armed with bagged lunches, backpacks filled with supplies, and knowledge of available resources, volunteers and professionals alike will take to the streets Thursday in an effort to combat homelessness locally.
Service providers will be hosting “Homeless no More” events at various locations across the north country Thursday with the goal to conduct a brief survey to get a count of the number of individuals who are homeless, on the brink of homelessness, or who were homeless during the past year.
In Jefferson County, the CARE Center, 247 Factory St., will serve as the hub for the survey and outreach efforts.
“It allows us to show the community that there’s many agencies, including us, available for people to go if they are facing these issues, places that can potentially help them,” said Ashley N. Wilson, peer team supervisor at the Mental Health Association. “I would say that the importance as well is to get it out there in the community. I don’t think a lot of our community members are aware of just how big homelessness is in this area.”
CARE Center partner agencies are rallying to host an “Open House & Conversation” throughout the day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., during which they will glean important data relating to housing instability and connect individuals with resources.
The event is not confined to the CARE Center. Under the leadership of Mental Health Association of Jefferson County and Watertown Urban Mission, volunteers will take to the streets to identify those who are experiencing homelessness. The event is modeled after the national “Point in Time” survey conducted on behalf of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Conducted annually in January to count the number of homeless, the event typically draws low numbers in the north country where cold weather changes the nature of homelessness.
“With the street outreach, myself, some individuals over at the Urban Mission and some team members here that are certified peers and advocates, we’ll try to reach the more vulnerable people in our community that are really facing crisis issues with homelessness to see if we can get them connected and get them the help that they need,” Ms. Wilson said. “I think it’s good to get out in the community, to address it and see what we can do to help people.”
CARE Center partner agencies provide rental assistance programming and other supportive services and include Catholic Charities, Community Action Planning Council, Department of Social Services, Mental Health Association, Transitional Living Services and Watertown Urban Mission. Several other organizations will be present on July 22 including Anchor Recovery Center, Children’s Home of Jefferson County, CREDO, North Country Prenatal Perinatal Council, Neighbors of Watertown, Samaritan Addiction Services, Soldier On, and Victims Assistance Center.
“Really what we’re trying to do is kind of broaden the effort and build on that ‘Point in Time’ idea, which is a really good idea, it just doesn’t work in January in the north country,” said Dawn M. Cole, executive director of the Watertown Urban Mission. “In these past few weeks we have seen more truly homeless without a roof over their heads, sleeping in a tent or some kind of makeshift shelter or on the street, we’re seeing more and more of that and it’s really alarming.”
Ms. Cole recalled a recent Saturday where she was working at the CARE Center, and during that window of time met three individuals who were utterly homeless and carrying their belongings in bags. She said it shook her to her core.
“I just couldn’t fathom that it’s gotten to be this big of an impact here in our community, we need more people to recognize what’s happening,” Ms. Cole said. “I think this will be the start of a more ongoing thing throughout the summer where we work to identify and figure out where some of these folks are.”
Bagged lunches will be provided to those who participate in a survey that captures basic household demographics and information relating to barriers to stable housing. Supplies and bagged lunches are provided by the faith community, including First Presbyterian, Sulphur Springs United Methodist, Adams Village Baptist and Trinity Churches.
“These are the folks who maybe move around a lot, they’re couch surfing, staying with friends and family,” Ms. Cole said. “We just want to have a conversation, do a brief survey, gather a little bit of data and try to learn more about the barriers that are preventing them from more stable housing.”
Members of the community who have knowledge of specific instances where individuals are homeless are encouraged to reach out to: Ashley Wilson at Mental Health Association at 315-788-0970 or Tim Fayette at Urban Mission at 315-782-8440.
“We need to go out and try to probe as gently as we can to figure out what’s caused people to be in this situation so that we can figure out what to do about it,” Ms. Cole said.