The biennial count of the area's homeless population, which helps meet an important requirement to receive federal funding for housing programs, is well short of its volunteer goal less than three weeks before the event, an organizer said Monday.Only 111 volunteers have signed up for the Jan. 24 count, roughly 200 fewer than were on board at this point before the last census and survey, said Cindy Crane, executive director of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition.Generally officials rely on about 500 people, including law officers who provide security to volunteers.Without enough volunteers, some areas where homeless people could be camping or sleeping under bridges might go unchecked, Crain said."Obviously we do the routes with the highest probability [of finding homeless people] first, but there is still a lot of ground to cover," she said.This will be the fifth count in Tarrant County. On the night of the event, volunteers gather at staging areas before fanning out in teams of three to five people on planned routes where homeless people are known to live. The count usually lasts until about 1:30 a.m.During the count, volunteers walk into campsites, peek under bridges and survey people along East Lancaster Avenue.The 2011 count identified 2,169 homeless people, 136 of whom were unsheltered, in Tarrant and Parker counties, according to the homeless coalition.One reason the number of volunteers is low is that organizers have not had much time to promote the count, Crain said. Tarrant County's application for a $12 million federal continuum of care grant that is usually due in October was pushed back to mid-January this year.The federal Housing and Urban Development Deparatment requires the census and survey for communities to receive federal funding for several housing and supportive services through the Continuum of Care.People who have participated in past counts often say it opened their eyes to the homeless world and even debunked myths about people on the streets. Melinda Veatch, executive director of the Tarrant Area Community of Churches, went into the streets during three counts."My experience has been incredibly enlightening," she said. "When you're face to face in conversation with homeless people you see firsthand the conditions they live in and hear their stories. You really learn from it."She said she has never felt threatened or unsafe during the survey."In my experience, the people we encounter are very respectful and do not resent us coming to find out where they are," she said.Alex Branch, 817-390-7688Twitter: @albranch1
How to help
Volunteers are needed for Tarrant County's 2013 Homeless Count, which is 9:30 p.m. Jan 24 to 1 a.m. Jan. 25.
More information: www.ahomewithhope.org and click on the homeless count registration link.
Source: Tarrant County Homeless Coalition