The New Bedford 2018 Point-In-Time Count will take place this coming Wednesday, January 24, and run for 24 hours, as volunteers take a count of the sheltered and unsheltered homeless living in New Bedford.

On Monday, WBSM's Phil Paleologos welcomed Joseph Maia, Grants Compliance Coordinator for the City of New Bedford's Department of Planning, Housing and Community Development; Amy Rapoza, Program Supervisor at the New Bedford Women's Program; and Danielle Brown, Project Coordinator at Welcome Home.

Maia said the Point-In-Time count, which begins at 2 p.m. Wednesday and runs until 2 p.m. Thursday, is an important factor in determining how to best help the homeless.

"We do this count to understand the demographics: how the population is changing, what their needs are," he said. "With this information, we can better tarilor our programs and services."

He also noted that if New Bedford does not perform the count, the City cannot apply for certain federal programs.

Volunteers will spread out through the city and, utilizing a mobile app, will conduct a census of the homeless. The count not only includes those living on the streets or outdoors, but also those who are sheltered in programs but have no permanent home.

"Those are people who are in programs like Stepping Stone, PAACA, Catholic Social Services," he said. "That's the vast majority of the homeless."

There will also be a "command center" for the volunteers at PAACA's headquarters at 360 Coggeshall Street during the count. The homeless are also invited to come to PAACA to take part in the survey, and to receive a hot meal.

Any homeless person who completes a PIT survey will also receive a backpack with donated items such as socks, hats, gloves, toiletries, gift cards and more. The volunteers also provide information to the homeless about how they can receive further help.

"We bring 'street sheets' with us that list all the resources," Brown said. "I like to spend a little extra time. It's not just about a count, (it's about) spending a little bit of time with the homeless and getting to know them, telling them the resourhces and offering them services at that point."

Maia said the face of homelessness has changed in recent years.

"It's really not just about that person that's in the cardboard box, the stereotypical person," Maia said, noting that mental health and substance abuse are big factors contributing to homelessness. "We're not seeing those typical folks out there. We're seeing families, and a lot of families are becoming homeless. The housing crisis has really changed the whole dynamics of what we're seeing, and how we're actually addressing it. It's morphing and it's changing, and it's affecting every household."

"Substance abuse plays a big part in homelessness," Rapoza said. "Sometimes, even when they're not using drugs or alcohol, it's just difficult to find the resources to get back on your feet."

Brown, who is a recovering addict and said both herself and family members have dealt with bouts of homelessness in the past, pointed out how quickly a person can find themselves on the streets.

"I believe we're all just one paycheck away from being homeless," she said. "It can happen to anyone."

"Beyond just this count, the goal is to try to keep this conversation and this dialogue going," Maia said. "It's not just once a year. It's really something that happens throughout the course of the year."

Anyone wishing to donate gift items can contact Jamie Casey of PAACA at jcasey@paaca.org or (508) 997-9051. To volunteer for the PIT count, contact Danielle Brown of Welcome Home at dbrown@steppingstoneinc.org or (508) 984-7514.