Survey measures Selma’s homeless population

Published 9:43 pm Monday, January 29, 2018

By Adam Dodson | The Selma Times-Journal

The Alabama Rural Coalition for the Homeless (ARCH) is conducting its annual homeless survey for the 42 counties under its jurisdiction, including Dallas County.

The count of the number of homeless individuals in cities and counties is required yearly by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in order to get a better understanding of trends. This allows HUD and other entities to accurately delegate funds and aid.

According to ARCH Director Felicia Jackson, the surveys are “instrumental” in receiving appropriate resources for Dallas County.

The survey they conduct, known as a “point in time (P.I.T.)” survey, attempts to provide as up-to-date of information as possible.

“Appropriate funding to combat homelessness comes from this count,”  said Ainka Jackson, ARCH participant and executive director for the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth and Reconciliation. “Homelessness is an issue here in Selma and ARCH helps out with figuring out how many are dealing with this currently.”

ARCH is given authorization by HUD to conduct the surveys for Dallas County, and spent about four hours of their day Monday analyzing the homeless situation in Selma.

Setting up shop outside of locations such as the Dallas County Court Services and Bosco Nutrition Center, ARCH members and volunteers gathered information for those living without shelter throughout Selma.

The process begins with getting their basic information, such as name, age and family members, which can all help determine what programs an individual might have available to remedy them. They also ask each client where they spent the night the previous night.

As Felicia points out, there are certain subtleties and complications that may or may not determine the eligibility of an unsheltered individual. For example, a homeless individual who slept on his mother’s kitchen floor is not considered “unsheltered,” and therefore is not entitled to the same aid that a homeless individual who slept in the hallway of an apartment complex.

A similar scenario exists with whose name is on a hotel room. If a homeless individual does not have his name listed on the hotel room, but is still sleeping there under someone else’s name, he or she may be entitled to assistance.

“We check thoroughly for eligibility because there are many programs they may have available for them,” Felicia said. “We are also able to use this information to help them get in contact with local organizations such as Dallas County Court Services, Edmundite Missions and the Selma Center for Nonviolence.”

The ARCH director also said she believes the homeless population in Selma has increased, for both individuals and families.

One possible reason for this growth, according to the members, is due to Selma’s lack of a homeless shelter. However, ARCH members and volunteers understand that the problem is not that simple.

“While a homeless shelter would help, it is wise to first start with prevention of the homeless population growing,” ARCH member Sarah Aghedo said. “A lot have health issues. A lot may not be comfortable with a place to stay from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. There are many things to consider, which is why surveys like this are important.”

While the number of people without shelter in Selma grows, they are not alone in their issues. The counties represented in ARCH have a rural background, which makes them more susceptible to health and housing issues, according to Felicia.

“There is not enough housing in rural areas that are safe. There is not enough housing in rural areas that are sanitary,” Felicia said. “This puts them at a disadvantage.”

In 2017, these disadvantages caught the eye of HUD, and they decided to increase funding to the Dallas County Area. Felicia, a 10-year member, says this is the only time she knows of where funding for Dallas County increased.

Spreading the word via flyers, phone calls and “word of mouth,” ARCH and its helpers surveyed and provided gift bags to around 40 people in Selma before making their way to Wilcox County. The survey will continue through Jan. 31.

For more information regarding the count, call (334) 293-7833. If someone is homeless or looking to report someone as homeless, call (855) 810-2724.