How many homeless people are there in Sunnyside? Are they young or old? Predominantly male or female?
Those are questions that will hopefully be answered during a survey this Thursday, Jan. 26.
"Last year we counted 18 homeless families and I can see that number doubling or tripling this year," said survey organizer Suzi Carpino.
The local effort, sponsored by the Yakima County Coalition for the Homeless, will be part of a state and national homeless survey.
Known as a Point in Time Survey, the idea is to take one day and get a read on the extent of the homeless problem.
Results of the surveys, including Sunnyside's, will be forwarded to the federal government to provide information for possible grant funding in the future.
In Yakima County alone, more than $500,000 has been received in recent years to expand services to the needy.
Carpino said the need is particularly urgent here in the Lower Valley as nearest homeless shelters are in Yakima or the Tri-Cities. "There's nothing in between for families needing to find shelter during a crisis," she said.
As a result, Carpino hopes to turn Sunnyside's homeless survey results into not only federal grants, but local action.
"It's my dream that maybe there can be a Gates Foundation grant or the Extreme Makeover show to help build a homeless facility in the area," said Carpino. She said she has approached local civic groups, as well, on the possibility of pulling together for a well-run homeless shelter.
"Something to give the homeless a second chance to make a difference," Carpino added.
Thursday's survey will not ask homeless people for their names, Carpino said, only their age and sex.
She said the volunteers will not go empty-handed when they survey the homeless, but will offer food items, clothing and blankets donated by the community.
Carpino said AA and AAA batteries, warm coats, gloves and hats are especially needed, along with hygiene kits. "We have a pretty good supply of food from local food banks," she added.
Volunteers are also needed to help conduct the Sunnyside survey. Carpino will hold an informal workshop this Wednesday, Jan. 25, to instruct volunteers on how to conduct the survey and how to approach the homeless.
For information on drop-off points for donations or to volunteer, contact Carpino at 837-3601, extension 3141.
As a case worker assisting the Sunnyside School District, Carpino said she has become familiar with where many of the homeless stay.
"There have been times I have been asked to work with a student and I find there are several families living in one house, or the address they gave is non-existent," she said.
Carpino said the Sunnyside Police Department will also be helpful, in providing suggestions for locating homeless people.
The homeless survey, this will be her second, has changed Carpino's view of the problem.
"My perspective of the homeless was that they lived in cardboard boxes," she said. "Now I have a different view. I've seen them living in their cars, under bridges, families stacked on top of each other in a two-bedroom house."
She added, "People may not see it immediately around them or in their neighborhood, but there is a homeless problem in Sunnyside."