GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Many communities are beginning their point-in-time counts this week. Gaston, Cleveland, and Lincoln counties exercised the counts on Tuesday, Jan. 24.
As part of the process, volunteers fan out through those counties looking to count unsheltered individuals.
The count is important to secure federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which uses the numbers to dole out money to counties to support housing.
The city of Gastonia was awarded that money back in December but is currently working through solutions to fill in gaps in housing and housing services.
"Think the community is seeing individuals experiencing homelessness more and more each day," Danette Dye, the Housing and Community Engagement Director for the City of Gastonia, said.
In January the city collected surveys from the public to perceive what the biggest needs were -- housing is the biggest among the rest. Right now, the city of Gastonia is preparing to release a draft plan and will host a community session to get input. A date has not yet been released.
Dye explained that the face of homelessness is changing. Eviction moratoriums, COVID-19, inflation, people selling property and boosting up prices all created a perfect storm for the housing crisis to happen.
Teena Willis, a housing manager at Partners Health, explained that housing situations changed dramatically.
"Lower-income individuals and older folks on a fixed income are at a huge disadvantage," Willis said. "They're priced out of the market and become unsheltered, struggling to find housing and stay housed when before that was never an issue."
Willis believes that the money provided by the federal government to assist with housing should funnel through programs at nonprofits throughout Gaston County. An example would be providing case management to get and maintain housing for someone. She believes that creates efficiency in all other programs.
The HUD funding dollars Willis is talking about are applied for by nonprofits like Partners Health, depending on the programs they need to be funded.
The count also allows organizers to find trends or shifts in the population.
Things like blankets, batteries, flashlights, gloves, hats, garbage bags, hand warmers, socks, water, snacks, and cash were all needed for the count. To donate or volunteer contact Jennifer Grant at 704-864-4554 or Gayle Mahl at 704-914-6332.
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