Stillwater News Press

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January 26, 2011

Payne County homeless population to be counted Friday

STILLWATER, Okla. — Volunteers will brave the elements Friday to count Payne County’s homeless population on the streets.

Mission of Hope Director Holly Smith is leading the effort, and she thinks it will be a challenge to find the rural homeless — those sleeping in barns, sheds, chicken coops and the like.

“We don’t know how to find those people,” Smith said.

To get funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, communities must count their entire homeless population on a single day in the last 10 days of January every year. The homeless head count in a cluster of counties called a Continuum of Care determines how much grant money that cluster will receive from HUD. Payne County is in the North Central Oklahoma Continuum of Care with Grant, Kay, Garfield, Osage, Pawnee, Noble and Creek counties.

Once the homeless people are counted, the continuum gets HUD money based on the number of homeless people recorded in the continuum. Then individual programs in the continuum compete to get a portion of their continuum’s money. For example, the North Central Oklahoma Continuum might get lots of money, but if Mission of Hope wants some, Smith must submit a grant proposal to HUD. If HUD approves, Mission of Hope may receive some of the money set aside for the North Central Oklahoma Continuum.

Right now, Mission of Hope gets about $139,000 from those grants. That makes up approximately 40 percent of the shelter’s budget, Smith said. That money covers case management for homeless people living at the shelter, insurance, maintenance, equipment, some food and other expenses.

The North Central Oklahoma Continuum governing board picked Friday as the day all homeless people in the continuum should be counted, but Smith has a little wiggle room. She’s going to count people at Thursday’s community dinner. The First United Methodist Church at Seventh Avenue and Duck Street offers the free meal every Thursday at 5 p.m.

Last year, the winter weather prohibited the search for homeless people on the day of the count. The only homeless people recorded in Payne County were those in shelters.

Weather conditions will be more favorable this year. Friday is forecast to be sunny with a high of 67.

Smith planned to contact people in Payne County towns — Perkins, Yale, Cushing and others — to ask them to look for homeless people Friday. She’s trying to get at least one person in each town to volunteer.

Smith still needs volunteers. Anyone who wants to help with the count can call her at (405) 624-3671.

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