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Agencies disagree on Augusta's homeless numbers

Survey produces varied opinions

Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 10:15 PM
Last updated Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013 1:10 AM
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For the past three years, Rich­mond County has earned the distinction of having the state’s third-largest homeless population.

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Stand Down for the Homeless is an Augusta event that provides clothing, haircuts and other items. Most agencies can't agree on homeless numbers, though.  FILE/STAFF
FILE/STAFF
Stand Down for the Homeless is an Augusta event that provides clothing, haircuts and other items. Most agencies can't agree on homeless numbers, though.

In January, volunteers counted nearly 800 homeless men, women and children living in shelters or on the street.

It wasn’t something to brag about, but it helped the city collect nearly $2 million in grants to combat homelessness.

Now, as the state finalizes its numbers for the nation’s annual homeless assessment report for Congress to determine future funding needs, the number is being challenged and debated – with housing officials, health care providers and social service agencies taking different positions on how large or small the city’s homeless population actually is.

Some agree it’s 800 as reported, while others say the number is lower, possibly 610, or perhaps no more than 140.

As efforts to help Augusta’s homeless veterans have intensified, their numbers have become a point of contention as well, with different official estimates of as few as 16 or as many as 126.

Most agree that estimating the homeless population is like “hitting a moving target,” and in Augusta, the argument is largely about how to accurately interpret a new definition of homelessness instituted by the federal government last fall.

“With people coming in and out of homelessness all the time, it’s a very dynamic population that can be hard to get a sense of who’s included,” said Jereon Brown, a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the agency that regulates U.S. homeless criteria.

For years, HUD has followed the direction of Congress, using a literal definition of homelessness to maximize the limited amount of assistance funding by targeting only those on the street or in emergency housing.

In 2009, Congress passed the Home­less Emergency Assistance and Ra­pid Transition to Housing Act to include people who were doubling-up with family and friends and considered at “imminent” risk of losing their primary nighttime residence.

The added language – aimed at determining prevention funding, not outreach funding – was officially integrated into HUD’s homeless definition in December 2011, spread to the masses in January 2012 and put into effect the following fall.

Today, the Federal Reg­ister defines the “homeless” as a person or family lacking a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence,” or a person or family who will “imminently lose their primary nighttime residence.”

Brown said the new terminology challenged local record keepers by forcing social workers and volunteers not only to find homeless people seeking refuge in cars, parks, abandoned buildings, airports, campgrounds or public transit stations, but also emergency shelters, transitional housing, and hotel rooms paid for by charitable organizations or government programs.

Survey produces varied opinions

In January, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs distributed 1,800 copies of an expanded housing status survey to 24 service agencies in Augusta.

While participants were identified only by their initials and date of birth, the two-page, 14-question survey was comprehensive, asking people whether they have identified their next residence; what federal benefits they receive; and whether they have a disability, have ever served in the military, have been a victim of domestic violence, or have alcohol or drug addiction.

Kennesaw State Univer­sity, the research partner in the project, accepted 796 surveys and the state cataloged the data, but what it found depends on whom you ask.

Kim Blanchard, the coordinator of the census, continues to stand by to the report she provided to The Chronicle in June, saying survey results indicate there are 800 homeless people in Augusta.

Jason Rodriguez, the data coordinator for the state Housing Trust Fund for the Homeless, said the survey results show 610 people as homeless: 163 in emergency shelters, 167 in transitional housing, 135 on the street and 145 precariously housed.

Because of “variances” in the data, Daniel Evans, the planning and development coordinator at the Augusta Housing and Community Development Department, said he is not comfortable with Rodriquez’s estimate of the unsheltered population for Augusta.

Evans said there are 146 people roaming the streets, bringing his homeless total to 621.

The figure was reported by Evans on Aug. 27, just five days after he reported 140 people as homeless in an e-mail that was sent to The Chronicle.

Numbers muddy the waters

In the past 12 months, the Augusta Continuum of Care had funding for seven homeless assistance projects renewed, with the area receiving more than $681,000 from HUD.

By comparison, Columbus and Athens, which have smaller homeless populations than Augusta, had funding for five and 10 projects renewed for $1.3 million and $800,000, respectively.

Atlanta and Savannah, which top the state in homelessness, received $11.5 million and $3.9 million.

The numbers frustrate Blanchard, who said service agencies are working to get resources together and help the less fortunate who knock on their doors daily in need of assistance.

“Some people may look at the numbers and think it is high, other may look at the numbers and think it is low, but social service workers, like myself, look at the numbers and say, ‘You know what, it doesn’t matter,’ because we are not meeting the needs of the community,” Blanchard said.

This month, Blanchard spoke with members of the Augusta Commission, proposing the city do a count this fall to coincide with Stand Down for the Homeless on Nov. 1.

Put on by the Salvation Army and the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the event provides services and goods to the homeless.

Evans agreed, saying that although the point-in-time count provides very comprehensive trend data, it provides only a “snapshot” of the homeless problem in Augusta.

“My perspective is these numbers are more of a projection,” said Evans, who took his position with the city in November after serving as director at St. Stephens Ministry. “I think HUD’s intention is to produce more of a solid count, but based on the fact that you have medium-skilled, medium-trained volunteers doing semi-structured research, it’s a little dangerous to call it hard statistics.”

Nonprofit keeps own records

Jim Lorraine, the executive director of the Augusta Warrior Project, said HUD’s figures are not always reliable.

As a result, the nonprofit organization that aims to help veterans get jobs, education and homes, works off goals instituted by the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program and has developed its own “vet tracker” software.

According to online data, AWP housed 127 veterans through $623,500 in federal funding in 2012, when it was expected to house 85.

In 2013, the organization has housed 83 veterans. The goal set by SSVF, which funded AWP’s parent agency, the Central Savannah River Area Economic Opportunity Authority, was 90.

“We took the low-hanging fruit, and now it’s a little harder to find homeless veterans,” said Lorraine, maintaining that his agency has “virtually eliminated” veteran homelessness in Augusta.

Lorraine says HUD’s data shows 16 homeless veterans in Augusta.

However, a 2013 HUD spreadsheet provided by the city showed 16 unsheltered homeless veterans, 31 in local shelters; 13 in transitional housing; eight in a hotel or medical facility; and 17 as precariously housed, for a total of 85.

Lorraine says there is “no way” the data is accurate and that his agency is in local shelters and on the street daily, looking for veterans who were reported to them as homeless.

BY DEFINITION

The Federal Register defines the “homeless” as a person or family lacking a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence,” or a person or family who will “imminently lose their primary nighttime residence.”

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angedelune
215
Points
angedelune 09/08/13 - 07:03 am
5
1

welfare state

so you inflate the number of homeless to get more money, then you declare downtown a slum to get more money. I think Augusta needs to learn to stand on it's own like Atlanta and Savannah. We are going to way of Macon, even Columbus is doing well. Also, if we do get this money i'd LOVE to see where it goes, and who's pockets it is lining.

soapy_725
43306
Points
soapy_725 09/08/13 - 07:23 am
0
0

The higher the number the higher the salaries. Always money.

Unpublished

The higher the number the higher the salaries. Always money.

soapy_725
43306
Points
soapy_725 09/08/13 - 07:25 am
0
0

It is all about the money. Greed. Power. Manipulation.

Unpublished

It is all about the money. Greed. Power. Manipulation.

soapy_725
43306
Points
soapy_725 09/08/13 - 07:25 am
0
0

New Age Charity. Not give all you have, but get all you can.

Unpublished

New Age Charity. Not give all you have, but get all you can.

soapy_725
43306
Points
soapy_725 09/08/13 - 07:26 am
0
0

Initials and age. What an accounting system? No duplication here

Unpublished

Initials and age. What an accounting system? No duplication here

soapy_725
43306
Points
soapy_725 09/08/13 - 07:28 am
0
0

Duplication on top of duplication of services. No accounting.

Unpublished

Duplication on top of duplication of services. No accounting.

soapy_725
43306
Points
soapy_725 09/08/13 - 07:29 am
0
0

Let's copy what The S.A. is doing and make a profit too.

Unpublished

Let's copy what The S.A. is doing and make a profit too.

soapy_725
43306
Points
soapy_725 09/08/13 - 07:30 am
0
0

Get those homeless SS#s and control of their checks.

Unpublished

Get those homeless SS#s and control of their checks.

nocnoc
30911
Points
nocnoc 09/08/13 - 08:40 am
5
0

I challenge the High Numbers.

Sure there are those that need a helping hand up, these are the true HOMELESS. But agencies tend to include those that are bums, those that milk the system, and the share that have mental health issues wondering the streets.

But I personally know a few senior citizens that own a simple house, have a simple car and have limited utilities temps set at 80+ in the summer and 50 to 60 in the winter, have basic cable and pay their taxes, that are regularly at the Food Bank(S) getting food. Just because their sole source of income is US Social Security. They are neither homeless, desolate, impoverish, or homeless. Yes they are likely 1 major repair from being broke. But more than likely some are being counted as Homeless when in fact they are not.

Yes, they are having a hard time meeting ends based their retirement income and are filling in the gaps with the Free Food, discounts and Freebies's to get by, but they are not HOMELESS.

But regarding the numbers, ARC is the 3rd largest city in GA and has the 3rd largest / highest in Homeless numbers.

Does anyone else see the correlation?

countyman
16820
Points
countyman 09/08/13 - 10:29 am
2
6

How is Atlanta, Savannah, or

How is Atlanta, Savannah, or Columbus doing better than Augusta?

Riverman1
70606
Points
Riverman1 09/08/13 - 10:49 am
4
0

For one thing

For one thing, Atlanta, Savannah and Columbus are not trying to have almost their downtown areas declared slums.

But counting the homeless is a tricky thing. Many mentally ill simply want to sleep under the stars.

dichotomy
26667
Points
dichotomy 09/08/13 - 11:23 am
6
0

The count is bogus.....follow

The count is bogus.....follow the money.

The slum is bogus.....follow the money.

The SPLOSTs are bogus.....follow the money.

The TEE and Laney Walker redevelopment are bogus....follow the money. Do you really think they have legitimately spent $1/2 million per home and that somebody hasn't made a ton of money on the "land" we've bought. FOLLOW THE MONEY. Remember the EXORBITANT price we paid Marion Williams for his "church". And we all know that the TEE and subsequent operation and maintenance contract was blatant un-armed robbery of the taxpayer for the benefit of a few wealthy, powerful, individuals.

The taxpayers are always ripe for a good fleecing.....follow the money.

When politicians create a program, officials immediately begin telling the lies to qualify for the program and lining up their friends, family, and "associates" to get the money.

How about it Southeast Richmond County......has ANYTHING gotten better for you since Consolidation? FOLLOW YOUR MONEY......it's in SOMEBODY ELSE'S POCKET RIGHT HERE IN THIS COUNTY.

vetbubba99
6
Points
vetbubba99 09/08/13 - 11:27 am
4
0

Most of the country does have

Most of the country does have a central agency in their community that is in charge of collecting homeless data and serving as a that central entity. I am a Veteran and in traveling around Georgia, there are several, Atlanta, Savannah, Macon, but we no longer have one in Augusta so everything is garbled now. We use to have the Augusta Task Force for the Homeless and they did functioned to first work with the homeless and coordinate data correctly. My church use to donate to them and we also helped them during Christmas and other holidays. We need to think about going back to what use to work and let that agency get our ducks in a row with this homeless problem again. Too many hands in the pot-Blanchard, Evans, Lorraine, and others and it makes us all look bad. But what else is new. Commissioners need to step in and take hold of this problem and put some one entity in charge.

Riverman1
70606
Points
Riverman1 09/08/13 - 11:39 am
6
0

VetBubba, good point

VetBubba, good point. I took lots of heat when I pointed out a local organization only took money from the national organization doing an extraordinary job as measured by charity monitoring concerns. When I looked at their financial records, they had taken in about $500 thousand in round numbers. They had spent $2,500 hundred arranging a conference here for local officials. $85,000 went to pay the one full-time employee, the director. $20,000 went to travel expenses for her and another $20,000 to clerical costs.

Similar patterns went on for a few years with them although I'm not sure what their financial statements look like now since changes were made. Every time I asked what they did with the money, I was told they arranged local officials of various kinds to get together.

countyman
16820
Points
countyman 09/08/13 - 11:45 am
1
4

The leaders of Columbia

The leaders of Columbia County designated several areas 'opportunity zones' including the section of Washington rd in Martinez. Martinez has it's own 'slum' too... The Chronicle and other media outlets would never report it the same way though.

The GDP of metro Augusta is larger than the metro and CSA of Savannah, Macon, and Columbus..

DeKalb County, Sandy Springs, Roswell, etc have used this process before. The city of Atlanta is partially located in DeKalb, and both Sandy Springs/Roswell are located in Fulton County.

whyme
1089
Points
whyme 09/08/13 - 01:35 pm
3
0

Numbers game

In the end does it really matter how many homeless we have? The fact that we have any is enough. The real issue is why they are homeless. Of course there are those who could get all the help in the world and it would make no difference-they just want a handout. But many are homeless by circumstance. Some do everything they can to keep from losing it all but eventually end up on the bottom and would do anything to get out but with no home, phone, car, family, or income, it can be difficult to look for work, etc. The other group is the mentally ill. By its very nature the illness can affect all sorts of basic needs and the people trying to help them have so few resources. No one wants potentially dangerous folks living near them and the illness can make the person paranoid about any kind of help. I say we can't give up though. May I also add that Macon is not as bad as you think; they're getting their act together in a lot of areas while we are seeing little progress, ultimately because of those in charge. We can get rid of the current commissioners but until everyone decides to play nicely for the good of the city we'll only have the homeless "supporting" the city; everyone else is leaving.

countyman
16820
Points
countyman 09/08/13 - 02:09 pm
1
7

Augusta

Augusta is doing better than you people want to admit. The media doesn't report the good news, but it's still taking place... Metro Augusta just ranked 2nd in the NATION for high tech job growth between 2006-2011. The Cyber command center coming to Fort Gordon, and the existing NSA will help attract private companies. The IT company Rural Sourcing located in the Enterprise Mill is hiring up to 100 people, and the CEO said the company could have 200-300 employees. There's other growing high tech companies in the urban core, and other places in the metro.

Whyme... How can everybody be leaving Augusta but Richmond County is growing faster compared to Bibb County(Macon)? You just said Macon was getting their act together, and were seeing little progress.

I'm sure Macon is doing much better compared to the previous decade, but their not seeing the type of change(Starbucks, Cabela's, Medical Commons, movie theater, NSA, PX expansion on Fort Gordon, Rockwood, Wrightsboro rd widening, I-520 expansion, Holiday Inn Express, Whole Foods, H&M, Laney Walker/Bethlehem redevelopment, Michael Kors, etc) Augusta is experiencing. The Cancer Center, Wrightsboro rd/I-520 reconstruction, Mike Padgett expansion, Windsor Spring widening, etc all begin soon.

Little Lamb
40139
Points
Little Lamb 09/08/13 - 02:25 pm
4
0

Counting Heads

It is a recipe for taxpayer disaster when you let each agency that gets federal and state funds based on head counts count the heads. Yeah, I know that's a clumsy sentence. But you get the drift. You head a government agency (or a NGO non-profit for that matter) that gets government money based upon the head counts of potential qualifying clients. But if the funding allows you to count the heads, of course the counts will be inflated beyond one's wildest dreams.

corgimom
19268
Points
corgimom 09/08/13 - 02:31 pm
5
2

Somebody please explain

Somebody please explain Countyman's post, this story is about homelessness. How high-tech jobs have anything to do with homelessness is beyond me.

corgimom
19268
Points
corgimom 09/08/13 - 02:32 pm
4
2

If you get rid of the

If you get rid of the homeless in Augusta, how will Mercy Ministries and the other gyp joints- excuse me, "charities" (and I'm not talking about the legitimate ones, btw) survive?

corgimom
19268
Points
corgimom 09/08/13 - 02:33 pm
6
1

But I have said this before-

But I have said this before- if Augusta declares itself to be a city that will end homelessness, and will provide for every homeless person that lives there, they will be INUNDATED with homeless people.

Because they all talk, and they all go where they can get the best deal.

harley_52
19546
Points
harley_52 09/08/13 - 03:16 pm
3
0

Mrs. Harley Is In This Picture....

....she says it's about two years old. She helps the homeless no matter how many there are.

bdouglas
3507
Points
bdouglas 09/08/13 - 03:53 pm
5
1

@corgi

Because obviously the homeless are the ones getting all these high tech jobs coming to the area, didn't you know? (c; He's never been one to stay on topic...

corgimom
19268
Points
corgimom 09/08/13 - 04:16 pm
4
1

Countyman, I have a question

Countyman, I have a question for you.

How is it when I quote the poverty rate as of 2011 I'm misleading the public, but when you quote the high tech job growth through 2011 you aren't?

As you told me the other night, THIS IS 2013.

countyman
16820
Points
countyman 09/08/13 - 04:36 pm
2
6

Corgi mom. The problem is

Corgi mom. The problem is that you're quoting the average between 2007-2011.

The census doesn't have any percentage for 2011 yet.

nocnoc
30911
Points
nocnoc 09/08/13 - 06:40 pm
5
0

May I suggest that a few people reread a few of corgimom's

latest posts. We may not agree with her a lot, but a number of her posts, if not all, are in line with my own regarding this subject.

Example:
"Somebody please explain Countyman's post, this story is about homelessness."..... not high tech jobs......"

Riverman1
70606
Points
Riverman1 09/08/13 - 09:04 pm
5
1

Same Comments On Every Subject

I believe it could be an article about the land rover on Mars finding something unusual and we would see a comment using: "Five Guys, Sprint Foods downtown, Starbucks, Cabela's, Medical Commons, movie theater, NSA, PX expansion on Fort Gordon, Rockwood, Wrightsboro rd widening, I-520 expansion, Holiday Inn Express, Whole Foods, H&M, Laney Walker/Bethlehem redevelopment, Michael Kors, etc) Augusta is experiencing. The Cancer Center, Wrightsboro rd/I-520 reconstruction."

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