CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Twice each year Cedar Rapids non-profits try to get an idea of how many homeless people are in the city.
In January and July they conduct the “Point in Time” Count where volunteers count up those living in shelters and on the streets.
Since 2008 the highest street count was only 13. During the overnight hours Wednesday, however, volunteers counted a total of 53 people living in cars, by trails and under bridges.
“If we know how many individuals are out there sleeping, it helps us decide how we can serve them better,” said HACAP Community Outreach Coordinator Dusty Noble.
A short training prepared volunteers for what they were about to encounter on the streets.
“No cash. Don’t bring any cash,” Noble said.
“They grabbed their flashlights and safety vests and headed out.
“There is a group that is the bicycle team, and they’re riding the trail, looking for people. We have a group that’s going into the parks. We have a group that’s going into the parking lots and then we have a bridge crew,” said Homeless Outreach Worker for the Abbe Center, Chris Myers.
Underneath Interstate 380, the bridge crew found tents, fire pits and people living in a homeless community.
“There’s a bunch of people under here that actually, they came together and formed a family. We look out for each other. We look for other homeless people to bring down here because this is a safe haven for us,” said Chad Engelbart.
“It’s kind of hard to live on the outside. You Know? When you have family and your family can’t help you out,” said Bo Johnson.
It’s not easy for them to find a place to stay on the street. They say police have asked them to leave their spot that they now call “home”. Organizers said they’re working with the city to help find places for all of the people to go.
“All the shelters are full. The Mission of Hope is sleeping people on cost. It’s crazy to think that — where are we going to go?” Engelbart said.
While volunteers said it was tough to hear their stories, they hope their efforts on this one night make a difference.
“If we can get help for these people instead of them being homeless that would be fantastic. That’s our goal,” said Volunteer Bev Moriarty.
Organizers said a number of things could be creating the increase in street count numbers. They had a big group of volunteers and were able to get to more places around Linn County. They also said new city nuisance rules are making it harder for the homeless to find rentals.
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