Thursday night, January 26, 2017, about 50 volunteers and staff with District 7 HRDC will bundle up and fan out across Billings to make contact with the homeless. Their goal is to gather data for the annual Point in Time
Homeless Survey. It is because of this effort to learn about the homeless that local communities get the funding they need to address the issue.
Ed Saunders has been out on the streets with the survey for the past three years. For the retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. it is all about connecting with his fellow vets and getting them to the services they deserve.
“Several years ago I started looking at the issue of homelessness in military veterans," said Saunders. “And through this process I became far more aware of the national effort in combating homelessness on a very broad scale not just for military veterans but across the board.”
This will be the fourth year Saunders has been asking men on the downtown Billings streets and at the Men’s Rescue Mission, how and why they are homeless. And he has found they are very willing to answer his questions.
“I tell them we do this to get money to help the community and they are very willing to do it," Saunders said. “And they want to do whatever they can to get back into the community at large and be a viable member of the community. They are just not there because they are lazy.”
Saunders says being a volunteer in this homeless survey is not for everyone. However, he says it is important and rewarding work.
“I would hope people would realize homelessness is a national problem,” said the retired army officer. “Homelessness among veterans is also a national problem. And to get a handle on this we have to count as best we can people who do not have a permanent place to stay. We have to find out where they are and then put it all together and they them the money to help them.”
The Point in Time Homeless Survey is conducted annually across Montana and the country at the end of January.
The 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress disclosed more than 17-hundred homeless people in Montana.