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Homeless count offers food, services

Organizers hope magnet event leads to more accurate survey

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Local homeless advocates haven’t always had the best luck going out and looking for people that need help, Westminster’s Kate Skarbek said.

This year, advocates tried bringing the homeless to them with the promise a hot meal, a hot shower and some new clothes and gear.

“Last year we counted one person in Westminster,” said Skarbek, special projects analyst for Westminster’s Parks, Recreation and Library department. “If we can get two people, we’ll double what we know.”

Homeless advocates across the Front Range fanned out Jan. 29 and 30 to count the homeless as part of the annual Everyone Counts Point-in-time survey for the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative. This is the first year the initiative has hosted Adams County magnet events designed to bring homeless people in by offering food and services in addition to the survey.

MORE: Survey night in Englewood and Jeffco.

Skarbek said Adams County volunteers hosted three magnet events designed to bring homeless individuals to them. The first was Jan. 29 at Westminster’s 76th Avenue Swim and Fitness Center. The Northglenn Community Center hosted a second in the afternoon Jan. 30, followed by a final nigh time event was Jan. 30 at the Behavioral Healthcare Inc. Rainbow Center on 84th Ave. in Thornton.

And it appears to have worked: At least 40 homeless people attended the Westminster event and most filled out the survey. Skarbek she won’t know for sure how many participated until the results of the survey are released this summer.

“But the more people we can bring in, the more we can help and the better chance we have of getting better survey results,” Skarbek said.

Cities across the country are required to take the survey each year on the last two days of January to qualify for federal funding from the department of Housing and Urban Development.

Along the Front Range, the effort is spearheaded by the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative. That group organizes events and trains volunteers to perform the surveys. Initiative volunteers spread out across the Denver area to find homeless individuals, count them and ask them to take part in the survey.

“They start by asking for a name, not to invade anyone’s privacy but to make sure we’re not interviewing the same person over and over again,” Skarbek said. “It winds up asking how long they’ve been homeless, how many times they’ve been homeless and where they spent the night on Jan. 29th. And then it goes into the factors that contributed to their homelessness.”

The 2017 survey reported on 157 homeless individuals in Adams County, including eight veterans and noted that 257 of the 5,116 they contacted throughout the Metro Denver area said that Adams County was where their last permanent residence was located.

Skarbek said volunteers at the Westminster event also asked participants to fill out a second city-only survey.

“It’s all great information that the main survey asks, but the question that has never been a part of it is what services they would like to see,” she said. “That’s what the Westminster portion asks.”

Information from the Westminster survey could help shape city programs going forward, Skarbek said.

But getting people to participate can be difficult, she said.

“We surveyed one individual in Westminster who was living unsheltered,” she said. “There were other people our volunteers contacted but they didn’t want take the survey. So we know the homeless problem was much worse than the survey showed.”

Hot shower and clean clothes

Skarbek said local volunteers collected a roomful of goods — everything from warm socks to winter coats and sleeping bags to dog food. Homeless guests were invited use the facilities’ showers, get a check up with nurses, a haircut and a hot, catered meal.

Once comfortable, they were asked to participate in the survey — but they didn’t have to, she said.

“I know we had at least two people refuse to take the survey,” she said. “They wanted gear and they wanted food. Almost everyone used the shower and couple checked in with the nurses to get checked out. And almost everyone got a hair cut.”

All the gear leftover from the first event was taken to the Northglenn site and then the Thornton site. Anything left over when the survey effort was finished is being donated to local shelters, Skarbek said.

“So everything will get distributed to the homeless,” she said. “It was all donated by local businesses expressly to help the homeless, so that is where every bit of it will go.”

Beyond the survey, she said the program does help vulnerable residents and they are grateful.

“We had one man who was very happy to get a haircut,” she said. “He said he has as job interview next week and he thinks the haircut will help, so he took my card and said he wanted to donate to this when he gets back on his feet.”

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