Augusta’s homeless population numbered more than 800 adults during a census taken early this year, but those who did the counting say the actual number is higher.
During the annual tally conducted in January, volunteers collected 808 surveys from people living without permanent homes, ranking Augusta the third-largest homeless population in Georgia, behind Atlanta and Savannah.
Some homeless people declined to participate in the count by completing a survey, and others were simply missed, said Kimberly Blanchard, the coordinator of the census organized by the local Continuum of Care.
Surveys were not completed for homeless children, but 132 of the 808 adults surveyed indicated that they had at least one child who would classify as homeless.
“It’s still very hard to get an accurate count on the homeless population,” Blanchard said.
The census numbers are used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to track homelessness and distribute funding for aid.
Based on the results, Blanchard said, Augusta needs more shelters and more permanent supportive housing where homeless get help to transition to independent living.
The census collected 60 percent more surveys than in 2012, largely because of expanded efforts to more accurately document the number of homeless.
Volunteers spent one night combing streets and overnight shelters to physically count homeless. For the first time, the head count sought out homeless at jails, hospitals, health clinics, schools and ZIP codes in the south Augusta area.
Soup kitchens and social service agencies spent a week asking clients where they slept on the census night to account for anyone who could have been missed. Duplicate surveys were eliminated.
The greater number of surveys – which ask for a person’s initials, date of birth and some statistical information – does not mean the homeless population grew significantly in the past year, Blanchard said.
“It’s great to know we were able to document more and will be able to apply for more funding from HUD,” she said.
The census concluded that 140 homeless people did not have shelter for the night. Sixteen were veterans, 14 physically disabled, 29 with substance abuse issues and 30 with mental illness.
People facing imminent eviction or living in a hotel paid for by a social service agency also could be classified as homeless, Blanchard said.
Blanchard said census volunteers are meeting and visiting homeless coalitions in other Georgia cities to improve the census method.
During the count, some homeless people hid from volunteers when they entered homeless camps, Blanchard said. Volunteers were accompanied by uniformed police officers, which could have scared some, she said.
“We know there are more out there,” Blanchard said.