There apparently were some uncomfortable moments during Wednesday’s count of homeless people in Douglas County.
Counting people who came to agencies that provide services for homeless people was relatively easy, but trying to find and count homeless people in other areas of town was more tricky. As one volunteer counter included in a Journal-World story about the count found out, you can’t always tell who’s homeless by looking at them.
The volunteer approached several people who, by their unkempt appearance, seemed like they might be homeless. In a number of instances, which probably were a little embarrassing for both parties, the people told the volunteer they were, indeed, not homeless.
The volunteer’s experience during the nationwide Point-in-time Homeless Count conducted Wednesday points to one of the problems with trying to serve the local homeless population. It’s hard to know even how many homeless people there are in Lawrence, let alone what services they need and how best to help people get on the path toward a more satisfying life.
Many well-intentioned people in Lawrence and Douglas County have tried to reach out to the homeless community. One effort that has received attention recently is the Family Promise program, which sought city approval to house homeless families in local churches and operate a day center for those families. After meeting with various delays and facing the prospect of families with children sleeping in their cars, the organizers decided to skip some process and move ahead with their effort without city approval.
They were doing what churches should do: helping those less fortunate. They were responding to a higher power than city regulators.
There are many people in Lawrence who want to help, so many, in fact, that some residents worry that Lawrence is attracting more than its share of homeless people. Groups that offer services to the homeless population are doing a better job now of coordinating their efforts and taking a more systematic approach to dealing with the varied needs of the homeless, but it’s still a difficult challenge.
Perhaps this week’s effort to get a more comprehensive count of the local homeless population will at least help quantify the issue of homelessness in Lawrence. With the nation’s current economic challenges, it’s a pretty safe bet that the problem of homelessness will get worse before it gets better.