Volunteers set to survey a forgotten population

"Volunteers for next week's Kitsap County homeless count should leave behind their fur coats, diamonds and gold chains and bring a positive attitude. During a training session last week, volunteers also were advised to examine their attitudes and stereotypes about the homeless and recognize that these attitudes often are reflected in their body language.Be respectful when you approach, because we are going into their space - this is on their time, said Carol Falquette, a homeless outreach worker with Comprehensive Mental Health of Tacoma.Safety and respect were the focus of the training, conducted Jan. 25-26 at the Kitsap County Parks Department conference center near the Fairgrounds. It has been five years since there was a similar survey, and local social service agencies felt it was time for an update. That update will take place Jan. 30-31 at several Kitsap locations.It is really about taking raw data we get and trying to figure out how to best serve our community, said Julie Graves, housing development coordinator for the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority. For example we've found lots of homeless women have been victims of domestic violence and we know we need specialized case management for domestic violence.The count will be headquartered at area food banks. Free coffee and soup will be served to the homeless, while volunteers will help those who attend fill out questionnaires. In addition, there will be an outreach effort to contact those who do not attend.We are going to go out to the ferry terminal, area libraries and some other places where we might encounter homeless, but mostly we are hoping they will come to us, Graves said.Volunteers will ask where the participant slept last night, whether it was on a friend's sofa or in the street. They will then try to gather other information on participants' families (for instance, if they have children), race, age, how long participants have been homeless and if they have special needs or suffer from alcohol or drug addiction.To avoid duplication, volunteers will request participants' initials and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers. At Thursday's training session, volunteers were given fliers with safety advice. The fliers asked volunteers to stay in pairs, allow participants to leave freely and avoid touching participants. Jim Dominoski, former homeless shelter manager for Kitsap Community Resources and a count volunteer, warned his fellow volunteers not to allow themselves to be isolated by subjects. Stay in sight of one another, he said. If someone backs away, don't go any closer. If someone starts to yell, don't approach them - It's really common sense, Falquette said.The count has been publicized in a number of ways, according to Graves. Fliers were posted at ferry terminals, bus transfer stations, laundromats, libraries and social service agencies. In addition, area food banks have been placing fliers for the event in food baskets. "

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