Early on Thursday evening, the temperature in the courtyard at Augusta Rescue Mission was still in the upper 60s. It was perfect for a stroll outdoors or a little late yardwork, but it wasn’t ideal for the job Tammy Alvarado had in mind.
“The last time we did this, there were 60 men here,” said Alvarado, the community development coordinator of Augusta’s Housing and Community Development Department.
Alvarado was coordinating Thursday’s “point-in-time” count of the area’s homeless population in shelters, and warm weather meant fewer people indoors and more on Augusta’s streets.
“The idea is to do the count on the coldest night of the year,” Alvarado said.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which requests the homeless census date, selects 10 days in January for local officials to conduct their counts.
The reasoning is that January is generally a cold month, and cold weather will drive more homeless people to seek shelter.
Augusta’s count was set for Thursday.
This year, the count was only for those staying in shelters and other short-term housing, she said.
Even with the warm weather, there were still about 40 men staying at Augusta Rescue Mission on Walker Street.
Executive Director Rusty Marsh said he expected a few more to come in if rain that was forecast for later in the evening materialized.
“Cold weather and particularly inclement weather will bring them,” he said.
Volunteers fanned out to all the area shelters with forms in hand to collect information on each man, woman and child without permanent housing.
The information will be entered into a database that HUD uses to track homelessness and to make decisions in distributing grant money to organizations around the state that provide services for homeless people.
“If we do our job getting the numbers that are here, then we have good data to show the government,” Alvarado said. “This affects our funding.”
Tommy Peterson said he had been at the shelter since Dec. 29. Peterson, 32, originally from Indianola, Miss., said he left a customer service job in Arkansas in September to be closer to his 10-year-old son in Hephzibah.
He was staying with his girlfriend’s parents, who were evicted from their apartment, he said. He ended up staying in cheap motels and looking for a job.
“I was trying to get back to the hotel one night and I missed the last bus,” he said. “I just followed a group of guys headed to the Salvation Army.”
Peterson, an Air Force veteran, said he slept on the floor there one night and was taken under the wing of a homeless man known as “J-Rock,” a veteran of street life who showed him the ropes – where to eat and sleep, get a hot shower and find government services.
“We just walked around all day with him taking notes,” he said.
That path led Peterson to Augusta Rescue Mission, where he said he has found the support he needs to get back on his feet.
“Tomorrow, I will go back for my second job interview,” he said. “I start school in May using my GI Bill.”