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Volunteers spend night counting homeless people

Volunteers combed Miami-Dade County streets to count homeless people. Their findings can affect federal aid to fight homelessness.

By Rodolfo Roman
Special to The Miami Herald

Cherry Smart stayed up until 2 a.m. on a recent weeknight, combing downtown Miami streets in search of homeless people.

From 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 24 to the small hours of the following morning, Smart was one of about 100 volunteers who helped with the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust’s twice-yearly census of homeless people.

For Smart, who works for the Miami VA, it was worth missing some sleep.

“It makes you sad because many of the veterans are out here due to their service causing them physical problems,” she said. “When they come back they weren’t able to fit into society and often just ended up on the street.”

The number of homeless has decreased from 7,000 when the Trust was created in 1993 to 789 last year.

Last week, the organizers counted a preliminary number for the census of 840. The number does not include those who sleep in the homeless shelter. There are two counts throughout the year, in January and in the summer time.

Ron Book, chairman of the Homeless Trust, said the number is due to the economic woes the country suffers.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise related to the continued unemployment, foreclosure and economic status,” he said. “It’s a spike upward but its not dramatic.”

David Raymond, executive director of the Homeless Trust, said the numbers are significant.

“This helps us with the battle to aid homelessness,” he said.

Raymond also said the number of homeless measures how much the organization will receive in aid from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Noel Gaskin, who lives in his car, looked for assistance.

“It’d be nice if they were to help,” he said.

Before canvassing the streets and splitting up the groups into different regions of the county, participants met at the Overtown Neighboring Enhancement Team office,1490 NW Third Ave. in Miami. Some groups were escorted by police officers familiar with the haunts of homeless people on their beats.

Miami neighborhood resource police officer James Bernat has worked in downtown for several years.

“This is good because it identifies who we have on the streets,” he said.

The group he escorted blanketed the area from North Fifth Street to 17th street west of Biscayne Boulevard. There were two groups in downtown Miami.

Raymond said volunteers are significant.

“It gives you a much more of a perspective when you have others help out,” he said.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/31/2617514/volunteers-spend-night-counting.html#storylink=misearch#storylink=cpy

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