The EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless, which serves Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties, is conducting its annual “Point in Time” count of the homeless.
On a bright sunny Wednesday morning the courtyard at the Alfred Washburn Center, complete with picnic tables and a serving area for food and drink, is abuzz with activity. Volunteers are mingling with Washburn clients, taking surveys. Also with a clipboard is the Coalition’s Executive Director, John Johnson.
“In 2015, we had just over a thousand homeless men and women that we were able to survey,” said Johnson. “[In] 2016 that number went down to just over 700. This year we’re trying to see if the trend his headed more downward.”
Johnson says the main reasons for homelessness are employment, financial, and disability. Meanwhile, the surveys are expected to be complete later this week, but crunching the numbers will take a bit longer.
“Making sure that we’ve not counted the homeless twice, we go through a myriad of filtering processes to make sure that we rule out those that were counted that weren’t necessarily homeless,” Johnson said. “Once we narrow that down, we enter those individuals in our data system.”
Once in the system, additional filtering is done to get the best possible data. Johnson says that should take about a month.
Wednesday is usually the busiest day at Alfred Washburn, because a hot meal is served to an expected 220-250 people. Director Ron Johnson says on this day, they’re also helping with Point in Time.
“Washburn’s mission is to try to help the homeless, give them a place where they can be at peace, [and] a more relaxed atmosphere,” said Johnson. “Once you’re down it’s very difficult to get back up.”
The center provides sack lunches on the days hot meals are not served, along with laundry and shower facilities, hygienic products, mail service, and a clothes closet.
Washburn is run through the Catholic St. Vincent de Paul Society. However, neither the Catholic Church nor local, state and federal governments provide funding. And the need is great and unceasing.
“We depend on donations for the hygiene products, especially feminine hygiene products,” said volunteer Diana Fordham. “We’re really at a point now where we don’t have enough funding coming in to pay for the deodorant, toothpaste, reading glasses, and batteries for their flashlights and their little radios.”
Many of the men and women who come to the center are veterans, including older Vietnam vets. Fordham says a good few of them are disabled and cannot work. She encourages any veteran needing help to contact the Veterans Administration.
Among the vets at Washburn was Tony McCormick, who describes himself as “an ol’ country boy from Louisiana.” He says when you first have to live in a tent, it’s like hunting, fishing, and camping when you were a kid.
“But after a while, it just gets monotonous; it just gets overwhelming, it just gets old,” McCormick said. “It’s like a monster – it will eat you up physically and mentally. It will tear you apart.”
More information about the Alfred Washburn Center ,– including how to make a donation, can be found at www.alfredwashburn.com.The EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless can be contacted at http://ecoh.org.