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Nonprofits aim for accurate tally of county's homeless

LAWRENCEVILLE - Two local nonprofits are looking to get a better grasp on how many homeless people are living in Gwinnett County.

And there's only one way to find out.

Count.

So at 5:30 a.m. Monday community volunteers and personnel from Pathways Community Network and The Impact Group will begin the first of two community counts, venturing into various parts of the county, leaving no area neglected.

Pathways Care Coordinator Elizabeth Runkle said Monday's count is the first of its kind in the county. She said numbers compiled in the past have been made of tallies of sheltered homeless, or those living in transitional housing.

Runkle said this year's count is hoped to be a more accurate representation of how many homeless are in the county.

The initiative is targeted at finding how many people are living on the streets, in their cars or are precariously housed, meaning their housing situation is uncertain.

"Local law enforcement has given us sort of the hot spots," Runkle said of the locations where volunteers will be sent to search and number.

Volunteers will be asking the people they come in contact with questions about their housing and work situations. A care package with toiletries will be given in return for the people's cooperation.

Impact Group President Marina Peed said there is no shelter in Gwinnett County where the homeless can find refuge. And while she said she does not know if the results of the count could eventually lead to a shelter, she hopes the numbers, however high or low, will bring awareness to the community.

"Gwinnett doesn't put any dollars into (the) homeless," Peed said. "This count will be important to make a case (for a shelter). It is important that we have a good a count as possible."

The data collected Monday and again Feb. 8 will also assist organizations such as Impact and Pathways obtain federal money to continue efforts with programs that assist the homeless.

According to Runkle, the count is part of a larger statewide initiative with about 35 counties conducting similar tallies.

The second count taking place Feb. 8. will target extended stay motels, where many homeless people gravitate, Runkle said.

Volunteers are still needed to participate in the count on both Monday and Feb. 8.

Those interested in participating can contact Runkle by e-mail at elizabeth.runkle@pcni.org or by calling 404-982-0960.

After the counts are complete, the data will be compiled into a report to be submitted to the federal government and to the county.

"I'm hoping that we get some more recognition that this is a challenge in our community that can't be denied or swept under the rug any more," Peed said.

SideBar: If you go

· What: Point in time homeless count

· When: Training sessions and counts begin at 5:30 a.m. Monday and 5:30 a.m. Feb. 8

· Where: Norcross Cooperative Ministry, 2275 Mitchell Road, Norcross

· Special Information: Contact Elizabeth Runkle by e-mail at elizabeth.runkle@pcni.org or by calling 404-982-0960 to sign up.