FORT SCOTT, Kan. -- Though the face of homelessness may look a bit different in rural areas than in urban ones, Becky Gray, director of research, planning and grants development for SEK-CAP, said the problem exists. And her agency, the Southeast Kansas Community Action Program, is working to develop a more precise method of documenting the number of homeless in this region and ways to partner with various agencies to provide services to homeless persons.
Gray and Dick Horton, director of family and community engagement for SEK-CAP, were on hand at Friday's Bourbon County Commission meeting to elicit help from commissioners on ideas they might have for forming partnerships with other area agencies and for help they might be able to provide in the actual counting of homeless persons in Bourbon County.
The Southeast Kansas Regional Homeless Providers Network is planning a "point-in-time" count for Jan. 23, 2013. The count, which is mandated by HUD for any entity receiving money to help the homeless, is an unduplicated count on a single night of homeless people in the region and will be organized by Gray.
The counts help define the scope of homelessness in an area, help policymakers and administrators track progress, inform public opinion, increase public awareness and attract resources that would hopefully lead to the eradication of the homeless problem.
"The idea is to coordinate volunteers who would help us count," Gray said. "In rural America, it doesn't make sense to send out teams of people to count people who are sleeping on the street, because that's not how homelessness works here."
Instead, Gray said, her agency will try to partner with local agencies the week after that to survey people on where they slept the night of Jan. 23.
Among the ways Gray said commissioners could help with the count is to have their road crews and sheriff on alert for signs of people camping on state land, ask the sheriff to accompany their fact gatherers and urge the health department to fill out a survey during the last week of January.
Gray said the count will include homeless people who are incarcerated, hospitalized, in emergency or domestic violence shelters, or transitional housing programs and those staying in unsheltered settings.
Most common to the rural areas are those individuals who Gray said are "doubled-up," or living with family or friends because they cannot afford their own housing.
"HUD really doesn't ask us to count those who are doubled-up this year," Gray said. "However, we as a regional network think we need to because that really is what homelessness looks like in rural America. As a regional network, we are going to attempt to do it anyway because my suspicion is that HUD is going to change their thinking within the next couple of years because that is the way homelessness is looking these days."
She added that the numbers will be forwarded to HUD and that a certain number of dollars will be allocated to each region based on the count. She added that she believes homeless numbers in rural areas are often under-reported. "Our region is considering being recognized as our own individual HUD network so that we can keep that money here, because currently we are part of the statewide network and a lot of that money goes to shelters in more urban parts of the state," Gray said.
Commissioner-elect Barbara Albright said through her years as principal at Fort Scott Middle School, she knows the problem is disconcerting.
Gray also told commissioners there will be a Kansas Statewide Homeless Summit April 15-17 in Pittsburg, which she encouraged them to attend. Gray said there will be opportunities for half-day, full-day or three-day sessions.
Gray said the summit will include educational tracks not just for providers of services for homeless persons, but for municipal officials, law enforcement, educators and the faith-based community.