By Kara Linaburg
Wednesday, Jan. 25, at 4:30 p.m., volunteers planned to meet behind Amy’s Attic in Glen Elk. They were there to partner with United Way to gain a count of the homeless population, but to also provide support and aid to hurting individuals. This is the second year the national count of PIT, “Point-In-Time,” has been held in Harrison and Doddridge counties. PIT, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development website, “is a count of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on a single night in January.”
While the count isn’t necessarily a clear picture due to time, weather, and circumstance, it does allow for an estimate of how many individuals need help, as well as offers a night of outreach that volunteers can participate in.
“What we’re trying to do,” Brad Riffee, executive director of United Way said, “is to identify individuals actively living outside right now. Because if someone is living outside right now, they need help. They need our support. The main goal is to get them the services that they need. United Way is always looking for better ways to serve our community and implement programs that don’t exist, and this is a perfect example of that.”
The records from past Point-In-Time counts show that state-wide the unsheltered population increased significantly between 2016 and 2021, and while there was a drop in homelessness in Harrison County last year, organizers are working hard to keep the numbers down. There is a widespread stigma about the homeless, including that they are immoral and dirty, and this idea can cause people to feel isolated and alone. This isolation can trigger or worsen mental health issues and help often must go beyond housing. United Way is attempting to fight the divide, and give hope as well as the right stepping stones to a better future.
During the outreach, volunteers were instructed to maintain an appropriate distance, honor any requests not to participate, and respect individuals by not taking pictures, waking any sleeping persons, or sharing anyone’s personal stories on social media.
If volunteers encountered persons they thought might be homeless, they were to ask specific questions from a provided list, submit the proper report to PIT for the count, and offer help and support. Volunteers were also equipped with kits and food and water to hand out, as well as contact numbers for resources.
However, Marissa Rexroad, director of homeless services with United Way, said that their efforts are about more than one night. “This is work that our street outreach team at United Way does each day in Harrison County,” she said. “We work with folks who are living outside, who have become homeless, to get them back into housing, and connected to things like medical care, health care, addiction care, any kind of benefits that they might qualify for. And our ultimate goal is to get folks back into housing, and to become equipped with the tools and resources they need to be successful long term. So nights like the PIT count are great opportunities for other people to see what this work looks like,” Rexroad said. “And it’s work that we are doing each and every day.”
There are other opportunities for citizens to partner with United Way beyond PIT night. United Way has a form on their web page for anyone wishing to get involved with their community and be a voice of hope. You can find the link here: https://www.unitedwayhdc.org/volunteer
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