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County conducting homeless count
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Homelessness has increased in Georgia each year since the economic recession first struck, but for the first time Newton County will attempt to quantify the problem locally.

Newton County will conduct a homeless count Jan. 24-28 to help local and state officials improve efforts to aid the homeless and prevent homelessness. The count is being conducted statewide and results will be compiled by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. Based on a previous estimate, Newton County had 99 homeless residents in 2009.

"I think a lot of people will be surprised and shocked when the numbers come out. This is not just a big city thing, we have a lot of homeless here in Covington," said Covington Senior Planner Scott Gaither, who is leading the local count.

He said the results could aid non-profits who help the homeless receive state and federal funding.

The counts will be taken at the Garden of Gethsemane homeless shelter and the Willing Helpers Food Pantry at Solid Rock Baptist Church, among other locations. Counts may also be taken at the Newton County Detention Center and Newton Medical Center emergency room. Officials and volunteers will conduct a simple, anonymous survey, asking people where they spent the night of Jan. 23. The survey should not take more than 10 minutes to complete, Gaither said. If respondents do not feel comfortable answering questions, they can fill out the survey themselves.

Gaither needs volunteers to assist in conducting the survey. He will train volunteers on how to conduct the survey at a Jan. 18 session. E-mail Gaither at or call (770) 385-2178 for more.

Gaither, Covington code enforcement officers and public safety officers will go to locations where homeless gather, including the railroad tracks over Alcovy Road, near Factory Shoals Park and the woods behinFood Depot and Clark's Grove.

"We're going to try to go out and gain their confidence so they'll allow us to ask them some questions," said Gaither, who learned of the spots from the Rev. Clara Lett, director of the homeless shelter. "We're not asking (volunteers) to go out one on one. Safety will be a top priority."

Gaither said he wished the survey conductors could have given out gift packages, but he wasn't able to get them together. Any businesses able to donate basic necessities can contact Gaither.

Based on statistical models, Newton County was estimated to have 99 unsheltered homeless people in 2009 and 49 unsheltered homeless in 2008, said Lindsey Stillman, planning coordinator for the State Housing Trust Fund for the Homeless. The surveys will be sent to Kennesaw State University, where they will be processed to get a statewide count.

Georgia had an estimated total of 8,994 homeless people staying in various temporary shelters and 12,101 unsheltered homeless people in 2009, according to a report.