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Initial estimates show fewer homeless in Sunnyside this year

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Volunteers from St. Joseph's church serve lunch to Kyle Dillon, a volunteer helping with the Point in Time homeless count in Sunnyside yesterday, Thursday. Meal servers pictured from front to back are Juanita Garcia, Hortencia Vancourt and Clara Cardenas.

The faces are of everyday families and individuals whom one might encounter when going about daily life.

They are homeless individuals and families and yesterday, Thursday, they were at St. Joseph's school gym for the ninth annual Point in Time homeless survey.

One of those families at St. Joseph's yesterday was Adam and Meagan Hickam. The family of three is struggling to get by while Meagan attends Grandview's Compass High School.

Currently their family is living with Adam's mother, but they have been told they must find another place to live by next Monday, Feb. 1.

"She's pretty serious about it," shared Meagan, noting her husband has been looking for steady employment for more than a year.

His skills include mechanics and construction, but he has had difficulty finding a job in today's market, other than odd jobs for friends that help the family buy diapers for their one-year-old daughter.

Meagan shared, "School is the only thing keeping us in the Lower Valley."

She will graduate high school in June, but until then predicts the family will begin "couch surfing," staying with friends willing to allow the family temporary shelter.

Once she has a diploma in hand, Hickam believes the family will be better off. "I can look for a job and I don't think we will stay in the Lower Valley...it's easier to find jobs in other places," she shared.

Hickam said her family has received monetary assistance from the state, but without a credit or rental history, the struggle has been in finding a place to live.

"We have applied with the housing authority and low income housing, but we haven't been accepted because we don't have any history," she lamented, sharing she is only 18-years-old and her husband is 20.

"It's hard to get by on a monthly basis and the financial stress makes it even harder...we want to raise our daughter without the burden of not having a home," she said.

The one bright spot in the Hickams' life right now is that the couple doesn't have to worry about childcare while Meagan is at school. "It's a one-day-a-week program for mothers. I can take our daughter with me," she stated.

"We just have a tight budget and need a place to live. Adam wants to work, and it's hard for us."

The official tally won't be known for a few weeks, but early indications are that there were fewer homeless like the Hickams in Sunnyside counted yesterday during the Point in Time homeless survey.

Julia Hart of the Lower Valley Crisis Center organized this year's homeless count, and she said some who were at the Sunnyside count last year noted a smaller number this year.

Sunnyside's homeless count in 2009 was nearly 500, more than double the total in 2008.

The observation of fewer homeless this year was also shared by Dudley Brown, who serves on the Yakima County Veterans Advisory Board.

"There were 50 people tearing through the pile of coats last year," he said, gesturing to the tables of free coats where only about a dozen people were sifting through the winter wear yesterday.

Dave Hanson with Sunrise Outreach and Homeless Network said he, too, was surprised at what seemed to be a lower than expected turnout.

Hanson's program runs four homeless shelters in Yakima and three weeks ago opened an extreme winter weather shelter in Sunnyside.

"We opened in Sunnyside based on last year's homeless count," he said. "But no one has stayed there yet."

There were some services, however, that were kept busy during yesterday's homeless count.

"It's a lot more steady this year," said Irma Rodriguez, an access specialist with Yakima Neighborhood Health Services. "Last year it seemed there were more lulls."

Neighborhood Health drew a crowd to its small corner of the St. Joseph school gym, where it offered a host of free health services.

The services included testing for blood pressure, Hepatitis C and blood glucose. In addition, the agency offered dental services, nutritional information and immunization injections.

The bottom line from yesterday's count - whether it was more or less than 2009 - is that those in need like the Hickams were served.

The homeless were fed and clothed and connected with those who can help them live better lives.

If the number is less than last year, Hanson said it isn't due to lack of publicity.

"It was publicized really well," he said. "There may just be fewer homeless people in Sunnyside."

Added Brown, "Let's hope so."

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