GREENSBORO — Making camps where they could, Elizabeth and Mark Lewis spent four months traveling from Arkansas to Greensboro. They arrived earlier this month.
The married couple has been sleeping outside since reaching Greensboro, Mark Lewis said. They were in a camp Tuesday night, when a group of mostly volunteers conducting the annual Point-in-Time count of homeless people in Greensboro found the Lewises and added them to a tally of the homeless in Guilford County.
Each January, people fan out across the nation to count the number of homeless living in shelters, on the streets and in camps. The count is the main data the Department of Housing and Urban Development uses to determine if goals are being met in efforts to end homelessness. The count helps HUD determine where federal funding for homeless programs will go.
Partners Ending Homelessness will collect and analyze the data and release the findings later.
Debbie Bailey, data and grants manager for Partners Ending Homelessness, said the annual event began Tuesday night, but searchers for homeless people couldn’t find many. Bailey said a lot had probably found shelter.
“They’re out there,” Bailey said as temperatures dipped to about 20 Wednesday night. “They are just not out panhandling or not at their camps. It’s hard to say.”
Meteorologists expected the overnight low temperature to drop to 9.
Severe cold weather spurred Greensboro city leaders on Wednesday night to open crisis shelters at Gift Community Church, 406 Prescott St., and Awaken City Ministry, 853A S. Elm St. The Lewises spent the night at Gift Community Church.
“We made a camp last night,” Elizabeth Lewis said as she sat on a cot on the floor the church Wednesday night. “If we weren’t here, we’d be making a camp somewhere.”
Michele Forrest a founder of Street Watch, one of the organizations conducting the count, said teams found 96 people Tuesday night.
Forrest said when the cold weather drives people into shelters, it simplifies the search.
“We do know that the majority will be in crisis shelters for us,” Forrest said. “That’s good for us, because we know we’ll get accurate data.”
Teams conducting the count ask homeless people to voluntarily fill out a survey with questions about their living conditions.
Mark Lewis said he was uncertain about filling out the survey. He was nervous about giving out personal information.
But Lewis said he hopes to find work and a home before his wife turns 30 in March. Giving information to Partners Ending Homelessness might lead to the organization helping him find a home, Lewis said.
“They understand that we’re collecting information that will help them get services,” Forrest said.
To end homelessness, Partners Ending Homelessness and other organizations use the tactic of first finding a stable home for chronically homeless people, then helping them deal with severe health and other issues.
The number of homeless people in Guilford County has decreased by 20 percent since 2007, data show. But Forrest said that is not an indication that the problem is decreasing.
There are people leaving the rolls of the homeless, Forrest said. People are finding permanent housing, she said. However, new faces are appearing in the shelters.
“Just in the crisis shelters, we’re seeing all kinds of new people that we’ve never seen before,” she said. “We’re seeing lots of people who are brand new to living outside. That surprises me.”
Contact Joe Gamm at (336) 373-7090, and follow @josephgamm on Twitter.