Tedford Housing’s Cumberland Street unit in Brunswick, as seen in this March 2017 file photo (Ben Goodridge / The Times Record)

BATH — On Jan. 22, volunteers across Maine will head out into the cold to try to count the number of homeless people living in Maine communities.

This Point-in-Time Count is part of a nationwide effort, and has become one of the few reliable sources for data on homelessness. Volunteers travel to shelters and search for homeless individuals elsewhere, including outdoor encampments, collecting information about them and producing a count to give an idea of how many homeless people are in the area.

But in some rural parts of the state, finding volunteers to help with the annual count has been an ongoing issue. In Sagadahoc County, there is no local group organizing the count. Instead, Portland’s Preble Street Veterans Housing Services has stepped up to organize the count.

“We’ve actually taken over a lot of counties in the state of Maine over the years. This year we’re taking on Sagadahoc County, we’re helping in Androscoggin and we’re taking parts of Cumberland, too,” said Michael Roy of Preble Street. “This year we’re taking on Piscataquis.”

Last year, Roy said it was just him and two other Preble Street employees undertaking the count in Sagadahoc County. Despite distributing fliers every year and trying to engage Sagadahoc residents in the count, it’s been difficult to attract volunteers to the annual event, he said.

“The biggest reason why we don’t have a whole lot of volunteers is because of how rural Sagadahoc County is,” said Roy.

While there were no volunteers in the traditional sense, Mike said that the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office was a tremendous help, telling the organizers where they were likely to find homeless people. Local police departments also offered help.

Still, Roy hopes that some people will volunteer this year. More volunteers means that the group can cover more ground, and theoretically find more people to add to the count. That’s important because the number of homeless people found in an area helps the government and nonprofits decide where to send resources.

“This is how the state of Maine gets its funding for homelessness. This is a big deal,” said Roy. “We do everything we can to support all these causes to get accurate counts.”

Volunteers can also use the count to connect homeless individuals with resource centers like Preble Street and other organizations that provide services.

Data collected during the count helps experts determine the biggest causes of poverty, the biggest impediments to escaping poverty, and where the largest populations of homeless individuals are. Legislators, service providers and others can then use that data to address the issue and provide help to those who need it.

Last January, the Point in Time Count documented 1,125 homeless people living in Maine. That’s the lowest number counted since 2012.

Because there are no shelters in Bath, many homeless people in Bath and Sagadahoc County turn to Brunswick, where a greater number of services are available.

Tedford Housing focuses primarily on the greater Bath-Brunswick area, but serves people from Freeport to Waldoboro to Sagadahoc County and into Lincoln County.

In 2018, Tedford Housing received calls from 441 individuals seeking shelter. They were only able to house 87 of those people.

“We’re only able to serve 20 percent of the single people who call us … and 6 percent of the families,” said Executive Director Craig Phillips.

Phillips noted that because Bath lacks a shelter or major gathering places for homeless populations, it’s difficult to get a handle on exactly how many homeless people are living in Bath and the surrounding communities.

That’s why the Point In Time Count is so essential for rural areas.

Roy noted that because he and other Preble Street employees will be helping with the count in Androscoggin Tuesday, Jan. 22, he’ll be conducting the Sagadahoc County Point in Time Count on Jan. 23.

In order to ensure an accurate count, volunteers will have to watch two short training videos.

Roy added that he was especially interested in volunteers who have their own cars, which will allow them to cover more of the county and travel to other areas than where he will be.

“There are other agencies that do help out with the count that are actually out on foot. They do the outreach part of it. They go to camps. They go to places where we might have a few homeless people gathering like tent communities or something like that,” said Roy. “We’re not asking anybody to go out alone and find these places — we would definitely make sure safety is number one.”

Those interested in volunteering can reach Roy at [email protected]

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