Counting the homeless is not the easiest job in the world, but every two years volunteers all over the nation do it anyway. For the third time, a team of volunteers will count chronic homeless men and women in the Virgin Islands on Jan. 31, thanks to the efforts of the V.I. Continuum of Care, a conglomerate of private and government agencies that offer services to the territory=s homeless.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires the count be conducted every two years in order to quantify the need for funding.
The last count was done March 10, 2007.
Tabulators found 487 homeless men and women, but the figures are misleading, Mic Akin, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands told the Rotary St. Thomas Sunrise group Tuesday morning. The 2007 census said there were 304 homeless people on St. Thomas, 87 on St. John and 96 on St. Croix. But Akin said there were not enough volunteers on St. Croix that year and therefore no one east of Christiansted was counted.
Volunteers team up with someone from one of the service provider agencies and usually a homeless or formerly homeless person to conduct the survey.
"Success depends on volunteers being assigned to sections of the islands where homeless people are known to gather," Akin said, adding, usually that happens at night. " But we are not equipped to do that here."
The other difference in the territory, Akin said, is while homelessness is decreasing on the mainland," this is not the case in the V.I." where homeless people increased by more than 60 percent between 2005 and 2007.
Along with collecting numbers of homeless people, the data collection also includes identifying how long people have been homeless and the circumstances leading up to them becoming homeless.
In order to assure the most accurate and comfortable information gathering in what can be a sensitive process, Catholic Charities offers several training sessions on all three islands leading up to the Jan. 31 count.
On St. Thomas the one-hour sessions will be held at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 22 and 30 at the Catholic Charities Administrative office. On St. Croix they will be held at the same time and dates at the Catholic Charities soup kitchen and on St. John training will take place at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 23 and 29 at Nazareth Lutheran Church in Cruz Bay. For more information, call 340-777-8518.