Organizations and individuals across Southern Maryland are gearing up to take a count of those who might otherwise go unnoticed.
Folks gathered before Christmas at the Jaycees center in Waldorf for the kickoff of the Point in Time survey, an annual event that will be held Jan. 29. On that day, volunteers will count homeless men and women, both sheltered and unsheltered, to determine how many there are in the region as a means of trying to get them resources.
Candice Quinn Kelly (D), president of the Charles County commissioners, said the count is done “quietly and unobtrusively with love and tenderness every year. These are the folks we sometimes forget or we don’t know who they are.”
Kelly introduced Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th), who spoke at the event. “This is a man who we all know the important business he tends to every day … and in the midst of it all, this speaks volumes” that he attended, Kelly said.
“There’s been a lot of talk about having every vote count … but we need to make sure every American counts and every American is not ignored by negligence,” Hoyer said. “We believe it’s unacceptable that over 1,000 people in our community experience homelessness.”
Hoyer recalled his own experience with meeting a homeless woman outside a Charlotte Hall convenience store and trying to help her find shelter.
“She looked disheveled, frightened,” Hoyer said. He drove the woman to a shelter and saw her hesitate at the thought of being trapped inside the shelter.
“She was living in the woods in the richest country on the face of the earth,” Hoyer said. “It’s about making sure we do not neglect those who need our help, particularly those who have served in the armed forces. This is an important opportunity to support our veterans, and we need an accurate count. Not one of those brave men and women should be living out on the street.”
An accurate count of the homeless population could increase funding for Housing and Urban Development Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers received from the federal government for homeless veterans, who often are overlooked, Hoyer said.
“I talk the talk. These folks here walk the walk,” he said. “It takes all of us working together. As it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to keep us safe. It’s important for us to pay attention … to understand that Jack or Joe or Mary or Sarah is in trouble and needs help. … This is all about giving and the quality of life in our community.”
Carol Payne of HUD expressed hope for the success of the count next month in St. Mary’s, Charles and Calvert counties.
“I want to be excited on Jan. 29 … expecting we get the vouchers,” Payne said. “We have a responsibility and obligation to get the housing for everyone. We are going to know who they are, where they are, what their needs are … and we aren’t going to just leave it there.”
Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) was similarly expectant.
“I think it’s the fact that all three jurisdictions … are working together to make it happen,” Robinson said. “You felt the spirit here today. This is important to a lot of people.”
Kristin Olivo, a case manager in Calvert County, emphasized the importance of an accurate count and volunteer involvement. “This year we have a better chance if there’s more public awareness,” Olivo said. “We don’t want to infringe on privacy. A lot of people aren’t aware. This is the way we assist our community and help make it better.”
Francine Morgan of the National Organization for Black Veterans is a veteran herself and said the count really hits home for her. “Now I’m in the loop. It’s not like homeless veterans walk around with something saying that they’re veterans,” said Morgan, who served in the U.S. Air Force for 17 years. “They’ll probably communicate better with a veteran than they would with someone else.”
Jerome Short, another member of the group, said volunteering to help with the count simply is another way of giving back. “It’s mostly about advocating for the homeless veterans and helping any way we can … and with the homeless in general, as well,” Short said. “We do have a lot of veterans out there. It guides and directs them to benefits they may not know they’re entitled to.