The final numbers aren't in, but it appears Sunnyside may have a bigger homeless problem than anyone imagined.
Suzi Carpino, organizer of a homeless survey held last Thursday, said she turned in a total of 120 surveys when the project concluded Thursday evening.
And those weren't 120 single homeless people, either. "At least a third identified more than one person," noted Carpino.
Compare that with Sunnyside's total count of 18 homeless families in last year's survey.
The difference, Carpino noted, wasn't that the homeless population suddenly mushroomed, but that there were more volunteers to get out and count.
"It was a lot of work, we had a lot of helpers," Carpino said. "There were five us out on foot in the community and about another five who manned survey booths at local grocery stores."
Volunteer assistance came not only from local residents but service agencies such as the Salvation Army, DSHS and the Lower Valley Crisis Center.
Surveys conducted by others in Sunnyside will be available at a later date.
Carpino said a full accounting of the homeless situation for all communities in Yakima County should be complete in about a month. Other Lower Valley communities surveyed included Grandview, Granger, Wapato and Mabton.
The survey asked what situations caused a person to be homeless, such as a lost job, medical costs or alcohol or drug use.
The homeless were also asked where they stayed the night before. Answers to that question could range from an emergency shelter to a vehicle to an abandoned building.
Though the 2006 homeless survey in Sunnyside saw much wider participation by volunteers, Carpino is already planning for the 2007 survey.
"This year went much better, but hopefully next year we can collaborate more with other Lower Valley communities," Carpino said.
She said the biggest surprise, at least in results she found, was the number of homeless youth in Sunnyside.
"I counted 40 school age children, and we'll probably find more than that in the other surveys," Carpino noted.
Once survey results are tallied county wide, the figures will be forwarded to the federal government for future grant consideration.
Carpino has said she'd like to see local organizations in Sunnyside work together to help the homeless, once the city's total homeless number is known.