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Louisville's annual homeless count facing changes, challenges due to COVID-19

About 300 volunteers take part in the count every year but with COVID-19, those numbers have been cut.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Canvassing the streets will look very different this year for the annual Louisville Homeless Count. The number of volunteers, typically in the hundreds, will only be dozens this year.

Erin Rutherland with the Homeless Coalition says each January they typically see over 300 volunteers participate in the early hours of a single winter night.

Due to safety precautions for COVID, this year there will only be about 25 professional outreach workers taking on the task of counting how many are homeless across the city.

"We know those numbers are higher than what we even report because a lot of people don't get counted," Tiny Herron-Markwell, with Forgotten Louisville, said.

Forgotten Louisville is one of about ten organizations and shelters participating in this year's homeless count. The others include Family Health Centers, Seven County Services, St. John Center, and LMPD's Homeless Outreach Team. Up for Women, St John's Center, YMCA Safeplace and Recenter Ministries will assist as day shelters. The additional volunteers groups are Forgotten Louisville, Lost Sheep Ministries, and South End Street Angels. 

While conducting the survey, outreach workers will deliver to the homeless backpacks with winter weather gear, hygiene supplies, first aid kits, and masks. That effort is made possible through community donations. 

The groups have mapped out areas of the city to divide and conquer, but in order to complete it all with far fewer volunteers, the effort will stretch across four days, during day and night shifts. Training will take place Mon. Jan. 25 and canvassing days will last from Jan. 26-29. 

"The more accurate the count, the better for us because then we are able to say we have this need in our city," Herron-Markwell said. 

While COVID has increased the challenges for all of Louisville's homeless groups to provide services safely, Herron-Markwell said the homeless count is crucial to continue.

"The homeless count helps us as a city to request funds to provide services. That's free healthcare for the homeless, that's mental health services, that's substance use disorders, that's overnight shelter, that's day shelter services," she said.

Herron-Markwell expects new faces on the streets this year, with the financial hardships the pandemic has brought.

"The biggest fear that I expect especially when the evictions increase again, is that our numbers are going to drastically increase," she said. 

The homeless issue in Louisville won't go away according to Herron-Markwell, but she hopes the new year brings more solutions, like increased access to affordable housing.

►Contact reporter Tyler Emery at temery@WHAS11.com. Follow her on Twitter (@TylerWHAS11) and Facebook.  

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