The Point in Time Homeless Count Survey, also known as the PIT count, showed a five percent increase of homelessness in Mississippi from 2011 to 2012. This evidence shows that homelessness is a growing epidemic in our state, along with 19 other states in the United States.
From January 26-31 several organizations, along with an estimated 34 Southern Miss students, participated in the PIT count for the current year. The students were so grateful for the opportunity to serve others in a way that would create a major impact. The university's School of Social Work was also thrilled to have such high student participation. The count is very important because it helps determine the amount of federal funding available for homeless assistance in the State of Mississippi, but for social work students at USM, the experience was so much more than that. Not only were we able to help the homeless population in our state by ensuring we get the maximum resources possible, we also gained great experience in the field, and got to meet some really great people while doing it.
Throughout my time volunteering for the count, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with many folks that are homeless. In my opinion, this was the most gratifying part of volunteering. Hearing their stories, laughing together, and establishing relationships with these individuals was an incredible experience that I will never forget. Southern Miss social work graduate student Valeri Stewart said, "I have worked with the homeless population a few times before I helped with the PIT count, but not in this context. This experience was unlike the others. I wasn't serving meals or handing out clothes. The PIT count taught me to see past their title of being homeless and to see them as an individual. I will cherish this experience and the people I was so fortunate to meet as I surveyed. I am blessed to have been able to help with this year's PIT count, and for the first time not be behind a table serving the homeless population, but being among them as an equal."
Homelessness has such a negative stigma attached to it. So often we hear folks say things like, "they need to get a job just like everyone else!" The fact is, it takes resources to get a job, not to mention job availability. When talking with homeless individuals about what their needs were, every one of them had "a job" at the top of their list. Nobody dreams of being homeless. Nobody enjoys not knowing where or when they will get their next meal. It is completely irrational to think any of these folks are homeless because they chose to be.
As future social workers, the USM students who participated in the PIT count have this to ask our community: the next time you see someone who is homeless, remember they are a person just like us. They are people that have had a series of tragic events occur causing them to sleep in shelters, abandoned buildings, and even make-shift tents in the woods. Educate yourself on our area's resources for the homeless so you can relay it to people in need. Volunteer some of your time at a nonprofit organization to help those less fortunate than you. As a community we can help make the days of those who find themselves homeless a little brighter; and for us budding social workers, that's one of the greatest feelings in the world.