Homeless identified in “Every Person Counts” event

Friday, February 1, 2008 | 5:18 p.m. CST; updated 4:35 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

COLUMBIA — Volunteers identified 55 homeless people not living in shelters during a biannual count organized by the Columbia-Boone County Basic Needs Coalition.

The number from Wednesday’s “Every Person Counts” event is unofficial until all survey information is reviewed, said Denise Heet, vice president of the coalition and homeless coordinator for Truman Veterans Hospital.

The count identified 22 more homeless people than last January, when 33 individuals were found living in places not meant for habitation, such as campgrounds, cars or abandoned buildings.

Heet attributed part of the rise in identifying the homeless to the larger number of volunteers this year. Forty people donated their time compared to eight volunteers in January 2007.

“I think it definitely helped to have more people helping this time,” Heet said. “We’re doing a better job of finding people.”

Even so, Heet was somewhat surprised at the number of homeless people.

“I didn’t quite expect to have that many,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that so many have to stay out in these temperatures.”

Heet said the main goals of engaging people, distributing bundles of winter necessities and offering help were achieved. She said that many of the people she came in contact with were “very receptive and grateful for the bundles,” which included items such as clothing, blankets and packaged food.

“Just building that relationship and building that trust can hopefully lead to help in the future,” she said.

The coalition’s plan to canvass outside Columbia’s city limits did not materialize for this count, but Heet hopes to expand into Boone County in July.

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