A sleeping bag sits atop an avocado green metal cabinet in a corner of Barry Gallagher’s small office near Brady Street Stadium in Davenport.
“It’s good to negative 20,” he said.
It was bought with donations. When the need arises, he will pass it on to someone living without a home in Scott County. He’s given away 11 in the past year.
Gallagher, director of the Vera French Homeless Outreach Program, is one of the social workers who look out for homeless in the Quad-Cities. His specialty is mental health. There are others for health care and veteran issues, to name a few.
On Wednesday at sunrise, Gallagher will lead a small team of volunteers and representatives from other service providers on a street count of homeless. They will split into pairs and visit 30 or so outdoor sites. The National Weather Service is predicting temperatures in the 20s.
Others will count people in homeless shelters and transitional housing programs. It’s all part of the Point-in-Time count done by communities across the nation and reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The count in the Illinois Quad-Cities is today.
The counts, done on one of the final 10 days of January, have a new emphasis on age and families this year to help federal officials document trends local service providers have witnessed.
“Now I see more younger people, a lot more families. A lot of it is economy,” said Gallagher, whose outreach brings him both to the shelters and to the streets.
“It’s definitely getting younger,” said Ron Lund, community service director of Project NOW, which serves homeless in Rock Island, Henry and Mercer counties in Illinois.
To get a clearer picture of that trend, the federal government is asking people conducting annual Point-in-Time homeless counts to note whether individuals are younger than 18, between 18 and 24 or 25 and older. It also is seeking an accounting of families by size.
These new points of emphasis join a list of information counters seek. The government supplies a full survey to document issues such as the length of homelessness, medical conditions, unmet needs and mental health, for example.
Rick Schloemer, director of the Scott County Housing Council, said the new emphasis on an age breakdown puts focus on people who service providers have seen falling between the cracks.
“Anyone below 18, we can get into child services, get them into the system,” he said.
But being homeless in those late teen years and early 20s comes with a unique set of problems. Finding a landlord willing to rent to them can be difficult, for example.
“If they are really homeless, we connect them to Bethany (for Families and Children) to help set them up with an apartment with services,” he said.
Quad-City homeless service providers, who work in partnership on the Point-In-Times counts, have a financial stake in the snapshot of need, the only accounting that does not use estimates.
“Every agency uses the count figures when they write grant proposals to foundations and funders to show a need for their services,” Schloemer said.
And the need always exceeds the funding, Lund said.
A major funding source linked to the count is Housing and Urban Development’s Continuum of Care competitive grant program. States are divided into service areas called Continuums of Care, within which organizations work together to document homelessness and apply for the federal grants. This count is just one of the ways need is monitored.
For fiscal year 2011, Iowa was awarded $7.7 million by the Continuum of Care program. Of that, Scott County shelters and programs received more than $1 million, Schloemer said.
Illinois was awarded $83 million, with $697,943 going to programs or shelters in the Rock Island, Moline and Northwestern Illinois Continuum of Care area.
In the Illinois continuum, which stretches from Rock Island to the state’s northwest border, counters found 28 unsheltered and 263 sheltered homeless last year, Lund said. Sheltered homeless are the people using emergency shelters, transitional housing and programs that get them indoors.
Last year, the Scott County’s unsheltered count was 22 people. The sheltered count totaled 261 in shelters and 231 in transitional housing.