McHenry County volunteers count homeless in community

Annual survey helps service providers gain funding, assess needs

WOODSTOCK – Walking through a snowy Woodstock Square on Wednesday night, three volunteers from service providers in McHenry County searched for homeless people.

“I can’t imagine having to be out here,” Nancy Erickson of Turning Point said. “… But some people have no choice.”

This was the 16th year the McHenry County Continuum of Care to End Homelessness participated in the National Street and Shelter Point-in-Time Count, according to a news release from Pioneer Center for Human Services.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires continuum of cares – which are made up of area agencies, organizations and businesses that meet to combat homelessness – to participate in the count.

Over a 24-hour period, volunteers count homeless individuals on the street and in shelters.

During the 2016 McHenry County survey, 195 homeless people were counted on the street and in shelters, and the number hovered near the low 200s in the six years before that, according to survey records.

Outcomes of the survey are used by HUD to help determine what programs and funding to give agencies across the nation, and by the McHenry County continuum and other local agencies to help with strategic planning and understanding the needs of the homeless. 

“The end goal is to help people move out of homelessness,” said Sam Tenuto, co-CEO of Pioneer Center and an event organizer.

Tenuto and Erin Brumfield Grima, director of PADS and prevention services at Pioneer Center, said it’s a community effort to complete the count. 

Wednesday night, about 15 volunteers from agencies including Thresholds, New Life Transitions, Home of the Sparrow, McHenry County Planning and Development Department and Turning Point of McHenry County met in Woodstock before dispersing for their assigned areas throughout the county. 

Before the night of the survey, volunteers consult with agencies around the county and police and look to past survey results to determine what areas to search. 

Volunteers Barb Wurster and Kristen Tenore, both of Home of the Sparrow, and Erickson set out about 7 p.m. to find homeless people in Woodstock. No one was found after checking the Square and the train station.

This was Tenore’s third year participating in the count.

“It’s important,” Tenore said about why she continues doing it. “[Service agencies] want to get the proper funding to keep helping these people, and if no one is out there to do this, then it’s not going to be done.” 

In January, people living on the streets are hard to find, as most are in the shelters, Tenore said.

The women carried surveys to give to any homeless person they found, which asked questions including their age, race, gender, who they’re living with, where they slept last night, how long they’ve been homeless for and if they abuse drugs or alcohol.

This was the first year surveyors could use a mobile application to collect data, which was created by Alex Campbell of EMK Consulting LLC in Crystal Lake, Tenuto said. 

After searching in Woodstock and Crystal Lake until nearly 11 p.m., Tenore said they gave a survey to one homeless man who was out on the street. 

It will take a few days to organize the data for this year’s survey, Brumfield Grima said. For her, it’s important that the homeless are accounted for and recognized in the community.

“There’s a certain amount of dignity and respect for recognizing what the people in our community are experiencing, and assessing that and then doing what we can to address those needs and challenges that people are experiencing,” Brumfield Grima said.

Tenuto said aside from collecting numbers, volunteers also are well positioned to tell the homeless what services are available for them.

Once a homeless person gets back on their feet, Tenuto said they’re eager to give back to the community.

“Those are the things that really make me smile – to see a person when they get stable with their housing and focused on their life,” Tenuto said. “They are part of the community, and they really do give back to the community.”

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