Augusta homeless count rises

The latest count of Augusta's homeless population shows a slight increase from last year, but those who made the census say the tally could be low because it was taken during a warm night.

"I bet you if we did this last night when it was freezing cold it would have been a different number," said Lynda Suarez, the research chairwoman for the Augusta Continuum of Care, a local data-gathering committee involved in the effort.

"It was relatively comfortable (the night of the count), and when that happens there are homeless people you can't find," she said Friday.

This year's count, which took place in late January, focused on a single night at shelters and soup kitchens. It documented 551 homeless, six more than a year ago. Last year's count was conducted in colder weather, Ms. Suarez said.

Ms. Suarez, who also works for the local community action agency Economic Opportunity Authority Inc., said she suspects the economy has increased the number of Augusta homeless.

Some progress, she said, is an indication this year of a slight decrease in the number of chronically homeless -- those single adults with a disabling condition who have either been without a place for 12 months or have been homeless at least four times in the past three years.

"We actually went down in that number, which pleases me," Ms. Suarez said. She said there were 142 chronically homeless counted this year, 13 fewer than last year.

A breakdown of the count showed the homeless include veterans, victims of domestic violence, those with mental illness or substance abuse problems, and "a lot of these people with a substance abuse issue are in shelters with treatment like Hope House and Salvation Army programs and the Rescue Mission," Ms. Suarez said.

The count is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine funding for homeless services. Ms. Suarez said it's too early to tell how this year's count might affect funding, but she said the area has been receiving greater funds for a Neighborhood Stabilization Program that helps areas where foreclosures have occurred.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 823-3338 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com

AUGUSTA'S HOMELESS BY THE NUMBERS*

379

Men

88

Children

84

Women

551

Total

OTHER CATEGORIES

Mentally ill with one diagnosed illness: 77

Medical disability: 39

Domestic violence victims: 34

Chronically homeless: 142 (134 men, 8 women)

Those not sheltered (in a tent, car or on a sidewalk): 48

Substance abuse: 165

Veterans: 91

Dually diagnosed with two mental illnesses: 64

Source: Lynda Suarez, the research chairwoman for the Augusta Continuum of Care, a local data-gathering committee