Winter clothing, immunizations, conversation, dinner and blood-pressure checks were among the free offerings Sunday afternoon at St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church, the host site of an Aiken County Homeless Coalition event to help count and serve the local homeless population.
"It was, in our opinion, fantastic," said Bette Ross, who is the coalition's chairman and also the church's coordinator of social ministry. She was on hand in St. Angela's Hall and estimated attendance at 100. Voter registration, shoes, haircuts, eye exams and child-friendly books were also part of the package.
"We reached a lot of people, we heard a lot of their stories, and ... leadership is very pleased," she said, adding that the goal was to ensure an accurate count of the homeless, in accordance with the current standards of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and also simply to "serve our community."
Lisa Murphy, also a coalition member, pointed out that the question of homelessness, in this case, focuses on where each individual spent the night of Jan. 22. An individual's whereabouts during that particular night – in a house, motel, car, homeless shelter, alleyway or elsewhere – help shape allocation of HUD money.
"You have to ask that very specific question," Ross said, "and then they have a very set group of parameters as to whether they consider you homeless or not, so if you've been out on the streets for three months but had the money for a hotel that one night, you would not count as homeless."
The coalition, she said, is responsible for accumulating the data for the county – a task that had previously been handled by Mental Health America of Aiken County.
Murphy said the event largely focuses on trying to connect participants with whatever resources they might need, such as help in acquiring a birth certificate or finding a soup kitchen, food pantry, pharmacy or job-training program, "and again, it's helping people connect the dots that they may not know about."
Roxana Sirk, the coalition chairman, described Sunday's turnout as "wonderful" and noted that the day's activities also included outreach in camps where homeless individuals are known to be situated. Offerings included "incentive bags," with such gifts as gloves, granola bars, a pair of socks and basic toiletries.