One day a year, the Places for People Recovery Center is abuzz with activity at 4 a.m.
This year that day fell on January 25. That’s when the Recovery Center serves as the staging point for the St. Louis City Continuum of Care’s Point-In-Time Count. Seventy-six volunteers conducted this year’s count in the city, picking up supplies and receiving final instructions at Places for People before heading off to their assigned areas of the city.
Places for People Welcome Center Director Kim Warden became Point-In Time Chair in January. In the role for the first time, Warden shared that she learned many lessons during the day of the count. (Not the least of which was to practice entering the alarm code for Places for People’s main building.)
“The individuals who worked on this project previously laid amazing groundwork that allowed the learning curve to be less steep.”
She praised the volunteers who conducted the count. “It is impressive to see such a group of dedicated individuals come together SO early on a COLD morning to go out and find the most vulnerable among us,” Warden said. “Seeing such dedicated helpers never fails to overwhelm me with emotion. Our system of care contains the best people in the world.”
Places for People residential specialist Kevin Cook, who also works as a Certified Peer Specialist at the VA St. Louis Health Care System, volunteered for the count for the fifth time. He served as a team leader, covering the downtown area. “My team came across well over 20 individuals who were living on the street,” Cook said.
Reflecting on this year’s count, Cook said, “The experience that touched me the most was the five people sleeping on a grate outside the Scottrade Center … I was shocked to see them there.”
“Only one of them woke up and was willing to engage with us. He told us they have been there several days. The fact that they were right in the open and vulnerable to the elements and any other harms really touched me,” Cook said. “We gave them some blankets and told them about Project Homeless Connect. I hope they made it there.”
Many volunteers are employed as outreach workers at providers across the city. Some volunteers don’t have a social work background and just want to help.
This year was Trey Parker’s first as a volunteer in the PIT Count. In his work as Quality Improvement Coordinator at Places for People, Trey works to make sure the organization is in compliance with regulations and is continuously trying to improve in delivering services. When asked why he volunteered, Trey explained, “I am in the position to help, so I think it is always important to help the community as much as possible.”
One of Trey’s partners in the count was David Grant, who is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). David said, “The homeless veteran population is what inspired me to volunteer.”
Even as someone who works on a daily basis with people living with mental illness and substance use disorders, David said it was an eye-opening experience.
“It was enlightening – we talk about homelessness to the point that the word itself loses meaning. Then you see the conditions that a lot of people are living in … it brings perspective to it by having to step out of your comfort zone.”
The data collected during the PIT Count will help officials advocate for more resources for our community.
The St. Louis City Continuum of Care worked closely this year with St. Louis County in preparing for the count. Approximately 50 volunteers conducted the count in St. Louis County.
After the count, the St. Louis City Continuum of Care hosted a resource fair, Project Homeless Connect, at Biddle Housing Opportunities Center to help connect people with community resources.
Warden will continue to serve on the St. Louis City Continuum of Care board as System Performance chair, which will lead efforts in the management and analysis of data collection for the CoC.
For those who want to help, Warden shared this simple advice.
“Anyone can be a helper,” she said. “Kindness and respect go a long way in the lives of those who are homeless as those qualities are beneficial to anyone who is struggling.”
Here are three tips from Warden:
- “Help by sharing kindness to those you see who appear housing insecure or homeless.”
- “Volunteer time helping those who need support. Although the point in time count happens only once a year as a snapshot for data capture around this homeless population in our community, volunteer opportunities at our agencies and those with similar helping spirits abound.”
- “If you are fortunate enough to have financial resources and are compelled to donate, attend to those humans who are struggling.”
If you would like more information about the St. Louis City Continuum of Care, visit https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/human-services/homeless-services/continuum-of-care.