Hours before dawn the next day, they would hit the streets. Wednesday night, they crowded into a Salt Lake City community center classroom, to sign up for the toughest job they’ll do all year. More than 200 volunteers will conduct Utah “Point in Time Count,” a sort of census of people known as the unsheltered homeless.
They’ll be going to places most of us avoid, to find people many of us know nothing about, the people living on the fringes of our communities and our society.
“We would like to get them in a safe, comfortable situation,” says Rob Wesemann, organizer of the annual effort.
Wesemann begins preparing the room full of volunteers by sharing the mission and objectives of the event. It’s one part survey, one part outreach to people who are trying to survive on the streets, through cold winter nights.
“There’s lots of reasons they’re out here,” he tells ABC4.com. “Serious mental illness, substance use disorder, trauma histories, difficulty in the family, loss of a job. There’s any number of reasons why people are out here.”
Wesemann instructs volunteers their job is not to judge the unsheltered homeless.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is just get them back inside.”
They’re also trying to gather data – information the state and the federal government will use.
“The federal government does use that,” says Utah Housing and Community Development System Administrator Joseph Jensen. “to analyze how they’re going to distribute their funding around the country, and also, just to evaluate progress.”
Volunteers will gather before dawn Thursday, to pick up their route assignments, socks, and gift cards to give away, before they fan out across Salt Lake City and beyond, looking for people who will surely be hard to find.
“These are real human beings,” says Wesemann. “And they simply need someone to listen, someone to accept them, and for us to put our heads together, to put them in a safer situation.”