Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministries once again has coordinated a countywide survey of homelessness.
The Point in Time survey is scheduled throughout the country during January each year. It was done in East Tennessee on Tuesday, Jan. 24.
The idea is to get as accurate a number as possible of homeless people in the United States. Federal officials choose January to do the survey.
The Tennessee Valley Coalition to End Homelessness, which serves 12 area counties, organizes the regional survey and determines the specific day in January to do it, so the results reflect homelessness at a specific point in time. County Mayor Larry Waters selects Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministries to head up the Sevier County part of it.
“The survey helps determine congressional funding needs by finding out the number of unsheltered people at a given point in time,” SMARM Executive Director Dick Wellons said.
Wellons would prefer the survey be done in the summer to give a more accurate picture of the homeless situation in Sevier County. In January many people without housing leave the area because jobs become scarce as tourism slows down. In addition a number of people left homeless by the wildfires may have relocated—at least temporarily. That would skew the numbers, Wellons said.
The 2016 Point in Time survey for Sevier County found 31 homeless people.
When tourism becomes strong again in spring and summer, so-called tent cities spring up with workers who fill local jobs until things slow down again late in the year. Some even live in their cars.
“If the survey were done in the summer it would be a true picture of homelessness in our community,” Wellons said.
Those who live in the weekly rentals—motels converted into residences—are not counted as homeless.
On the day the survey is done, officials check under bridges, in parking lots and even inside laundromats. Law enforcement officials are asked to look for the homeless during their patrols.
Although SMARM does not accept government money, agencies with which it is affiliated do. Results of the survey are used not only to paint a picture of homelessness in the region and around the U.S., but to determine grants and other funding to fight the problem.
SMARM is a faith-based nonprofit that serves the poor and needy in Sevier County. Its goal is to help people in the areas of temporary housing, utility payments and other short-term needs.
Results of the 2017 Point in Time survey won’t be known until early February.