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Community Services Consortium is in need of people it can count on — or, to be more specific, people who will count for it.

CSC coordinators and volunteers are working this week and next to complete the Point In Time Count, an annual effort to take a census of people both inside and out of homeless shelters. 

The shelter count covers people living at Helping Hands, Signs of Victory Ministries, motels or other temporary housing facilities. The unsheltered count documents people living in tents, cars, parks, campgrounds and similar situations.

Accurate counts are critical to continuing services for the homeless, said Scott McKee, a housing navigator with the consortium spending this week helping with the Point in Time shelter count. The data he and volunteers gather is used by federal agencies to determine funding levels and priorities.

"We're creating a picture through data of what homelessness looks like in our community," McKee said.

CSC is the coordinating agency for the annual count for Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties. McKee works with shelters and different service providers to help homeless people to fill out the survey that documents their situation.

Technically, the count is a one-day affair: Jan. 31. In practical terms, however, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allows 10 days to get the job done. That lets volunteers check and cross-reference people who visit warming shelters, pick up food boxes or eat at soup kitchens.

Julia McKenna, the consortium's Point in Time count coordinator, said the counts help shape local, state and federal guidelines for assistance programs. 

"The results help us portray a real picture of who is dealing with homelessness in our community, and what issues they face while homeless and in their efforts to become stably housed again," she said.

Between 15 and 20 more volunteers are needed this week and next, said Dina Eldridge, CSC Housing Services manager. Counters can be adults or older teens and need to contribute only a couple of hours.

McKenna is the contact and can be reached at 541-224-7724.

At Signs of Victory, Assistant Director Gail Meehan said she began helping shelter guests with surveys on Thursday. She figured she'd done at least 50 by mid-afternoon, working through the shelter alone, and was expecting 80 to 100 by the time the warming center and food box clients had all stopped by.

On Saturday, Director George Matland said, he plans to work with McKenna to fill out surveys with unsheltered people, particularly ones in various homeless encampments.

"The better job we do, the more we can help the community," he said.

The survey asks, among other things, whether respondents have mental health issues, if they've been in trouble with the law, if they have physical or developmental disabilities, or if they've ever been a victim of domestic violence.

Not everyone wants to answer, Meehan said. Some find the questions intrusive. Some distrust authority figures on principle. Some simply have social anxiety and don't like talking at all.

But some, such as Brenda Resue-Watts, are happy to help provide information if it leads to better targeting of resources.

Resue-Watts, 27, called herself a recovering addict who's been in and out of Signs of Victory many times.

"This is home, on and off for the past 10 years," she said. "Whenever I'm in hard times, I come here, whether I have a place or not." 

Resue-Watts is working with McKee on finding a more permanent home, but in the meantime, she's a shelter guest. If Signs of Victory didn't exist, she figures "I'd be probably under a bridge somewhere." 

When Meehan asked Resue-Watts to fill out a survey for the PIT Count, she said she didn't hesitate.

"All I know is it's to help with funding, to help the homeless community," she said. "I'm glad there's a program out there like that, actually."

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