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Lower Valley volunteers conduct homeless count

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Steven Bedolla, 4, holds a blanket given to him at the 'Point in Time' count.

Lower Valley families going through a rough time ate soup and received care packages yesterday (Wednesday) as they filled out surveys provided by the Homeless Network of Yakima County.

Suzi Carpino, Sunnyside Readiness to Learn case manager, said the event was a success but said she wouldn't have an official count until next week.

"I think it was successful because we used home visitors and people who are already connected with the people we're trying to count," she said.

She said school home liasions, the Sunnyside Police Department and migrant home visitors were used in conjuction with volunteers to help get an accurate count of the homeless in the Lower Valley.

The purpose of the 'Point in Time Count' is to produce an annual one-day count or estimate of sheltered and unsheltered adults, children and youth in Yakima County.

The Homeless Network of Yakima County is trying to understand the size and the characteristics of the entire homeless population in a community, not just people using shelters.

Knowing how many homeless are in the county helps in planning for local housing needs and services, and allows funding to be received for homeless programs.

Volunteers went into the communities yesterday visiting homes, parks and other places to count the homeless. They directed the people they encountered to the Sunnyside Community Center for a hot meal and care packages.

Thanks to Fiesta Foods in Sunnyside and the Sunnyside Ministerial Association Food Bank, a menu of chicken soup, pork and bean soup, fruits and desserts was available.

Sacks of goods were also provided to the homeless. They included blankets, hats, scarves, gloves, men's and women's toiletries and books. The Sunnyside Police Department provided family relief meals, boxes with energy bars, microwaveable meals, juices, poptarts, crackers and canned food, to the homeless as well.

A homeless person is defined as an unsheltered person residing in a place not meant for human habitation, such as cars, parks, sidewalks and abandoned buildings. People residing in emergency shelters or in transitional housing are also considered homeless.

In 2006 the Homeless Network of Yakima County counted 1,265 individuals that met these standards. That number was a 75 percent increase in the number identified in 2005.

The people taking advantage of the free meal yesterday ranged from the old to the young. One 18-year-old came in only wanting a meal and some sleep. As he curled up in a corner on a mattress with a blanket, Carpino and other volunteers worked to find him some shelter for the next couple of nights.

One small group of women reported yesterday they feel really good about the homeless count. They added the biggest obstacle to them getting on their feet is finding housing, with the deposit payment and first months rent, sometimes last month's as well, being hard to come up with.

Carpino thanked the Sunnyside Police Department, Sunnyside's Promise, the Sunnyside High School leadership class, the Sunnyside Community Center employees, the different Readiness to Learn case managers, all the volunteers who performed the survey and the businesses that donated the food and items for the care packages.

She said without them the count wouldn't have been possible.

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