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Census to give snapshot view of NWA homeless

By: 1 February 2011 One Comment

Mark Horvath, an avid homeless advocate and a former homeless person himself, first made a trip to Fayetteville to take part in the "1,287 Homelessness Awareness Rally." The 1,287 figure is how many homeless people lived in Northwest Arkansas according to a point-in-time census conducted by the University of Arkansas' Community and Family Institute. The Institute completed its third census a few days ago.

NORTHWEST ARKANSAS-As thousands of people in Northwest Arkansas lie safe in their warm beds, there are many who don’t have that opportunity.

A census completed last week will share just how many that is, and coordinators think the number of homeless people in Benton and Washington County will increase drastically from the last census.

The point-in-time census was coordinated by the University of Arkansas’ Community and Family Institute, directed by Kevin Fitzpatrick. Volunteers went to various locations throughout the two counties to ask detailed questions of people who don’t have a home to call their own.

The census is designed to get a snapshot of how the people lived in the previous 24 hours by asking such questions as “where did you sleep last night?” The census also asks questions about services each person is receiving and what services they need.

A person doesn’t have to live in the stereotypical box or under an overpass to be considered homeless. It’s any person who does not have their own living space. This includes people who are forced to live with family members or friends, or in a homeless shelter.

The first census was in 2005 and the second was in 2007, when 1,196 homeless people were counted. In 2009, the number rose to 1,287, Fitzpatrick said. Those numbers are expected to drastically increase in the 2011 census. Those results are expected in the next couple of weeks.

“The numbers are important but it will also give us insight into the service providers’ clientele,” Fitzpatrick said.

John Woodward, CEO of the 7 Hills Homeless Shelter in Fayetteville, which is one of those many service providers.

“The numbers are going to be a lot higher,” he said. “In 2008 when I started we were seeing 40 to 60 people a day and since then it’s increased to about 100 people a day. Without knowing the exact numbers, I would say we’re going to see a big increase in the number of families that are homeless (as opposed to single people).”

Woodward agreed that the results not only tell them how many people need services in the area, but what those services might be. After the last census, several changes were made to improve the services to homeless people.

“This is vitally important and we pay attention to it,” he said.

First Arkansas News will have the results when they are released.

About: Jamie Smith:
Experienced reporter who is now an entrepreneur. Jamie's Notebook offers writing services including press releases, corporate blogging and feature writing.

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