Families First Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services needs donations this month of snack foods and winter clothing, especially gloves and hats, for the “PIT (Point In Time) Count,” a Jan. 31 project to identify and help homeless people.
“The homelessness problem is bigger than most people recognize,” said Vickie Pait, director of Families First. She pointed out that last week’s suddenly freezing weather brought more people than expected to the emergency shelter at Edgewood Elementary School, some of them homeless.
The PIT Count is held annually, with many agencies participating simultaneously across North Carolina to, provide “a snapshot of who is homeless on a given night,” said Pait.
Knowing the number and nature of people who are homeless in the region can help charitable and government agencies target resources to the individuals and families who need them, Pait said.
Pait agreed to lead the PIT Count effort in spite of the fact that care for homeless people in general falls outside the mission of Families First. She and her staff receive “two or more calls a month” from people needing shelter who are not candidates for the Families First program.
“That may not seem like a lot to some people, but it’s a lot to them,” said Pait. “And how many homeless people are out there who aren’t calling us? We can’t provide shelter except in cases of domestic violence or sexual assault. The grants we receive limit us to using our money only for those needs.”
Pait is in touch with churches and other groups that have provided help to homeless people. “Lumberton Christian Care is a homeless shelter,” Pait said. “It’s a really nice place. It’s really the only place for people to go.”
Families First is looking for volunteers, who will be stationed in Whiteville, Fair Bluff, Tabor City and Chadbourn; exact locations are being confirmed. Volunteers will need to be available from 6 p.m. to midnight on Jan. 31.
“We especially need male volunteers,” said Pait. “We’d like to have at least one male volunteer for each location.”
Families First is collecting the following items to distribute during the PIT Count:
New or gently used winter clothing (coats, hoodies, hats, scarves, socks and gloves), blankets, packaged snack crackers, bottled water, mouthwash and cleansing wipes that can be used for “bathing” without water.
“Families First can’t provide these things. We are going to have to rely on donations,” Pait said.
Spreading the word
Before the 31st, a flyer will go out to food pantries and other places that may be visited by homeless people, saying “We need your help. You will receive a hot meal and a care package upon completing a short survey.”
Any homeless people who accept that invitation will be asked to describe their current living situation and background conditions.
Some questions include “What is your job status?” and “How many times have you lived on the street or in an emergency shelter in the past three years?”
Pait stressed that the interview is optional. “They don’t have to answer.” Volunteers can simply count each visitor as part of the total number being recorded.
It can be “really time-consuming” to obtain accurate information about homeless people, said Pait. “I’ll feel good about it if we identify a quarter of the homeless people in Columbus County.”
To volunteer or for more information, contact Vickie Pait at 642-5996 or email email@example.com.