During the overnight hours of January 26, two of the Project 16:49 staff, Matt Kaminski and Jen Preiss, participated in the Rock County Homeless Intervention Task Force’s Point-In-Time (PIT) count of the homeless population. During the count, volunteers search for and reach out to homeless individuals and families with the immediate goal of providing emergency shelter and supplies, and the long-term goal of eliminating homelessness. The data volunteers gather during this event can directly impact the amount of federal funding Rock County receives to address and combat homelessness locally.
Both Matt and Jen were assigned to teams searching in Beloit. Carrying hygiene bags, a flashlight and a “get out of jail free” card (in case the authorities wanted to know why they were out in the middle of the night), they proceeded with their assigned routes, aided by a fresh two inches of snow which made it easy to see recent footprints.
Matt was teamed with his friend Rachael, one of the homeless outreach workers at ECHO, and they were responsible for checking twelve locations in Beloit. “Compared to counts I’ve been a part of in the past,” Matt said, “this one was mostly uneventful. We didn’t come across anyone in any of the locations.”
Jen’s team also experienced a quiet night with little activity until they arrived at the bus station which was their last location to check. “Camped at the doorway was a person sleeping under a pile of sleeping bags,” Jen reported. “Our protocol was to not disturb, leave a hygiene bag and report it in for the count.” Then a homeless gentleman carrying a backpack walked Jen’s way as the second car of her team drove up. “They knew this man and had just spoken with him moments ago before coming to the bus station,” Jen said. “Leon was his name. He was asking about availability of shelter, especially for the upcoming nights that were going to be below zero. He told us, ‘I can handle it for tonight, but not when it gets really cold.’”
Leon explained that he had already started the process to acquire shelter and needed help with the follow up. One of Jen’s team members that works with ECHO reluctantly told Leon that no hotel vouchers were available that night, but assured she would meet up with him in the morning to help.
“Before we left to head back to ECHO headquarters,” Jen said, “Leon asked me for my name. After I told him, he extended out his hand for a handshake to say thank you and goodbye.”
Matt’s evening wasn’t entirely quiet. After two and a half hours of searching, Matt and his partner encountered two homeless individuals that had already been counted and given a care bag from another group searching in the same area.
“Overall, the experience was worthwhile,” said Matt, “and being out in the elements was very humbling. Trying to get help for those struggling with homelessness is the reason I continue to volunteer for each winter count.”
For Jen, the experience reinforced three points to her: “The importance of being seen. The importance of being heard. The importance of being counted.”