Volunteer Kris Hardy surveys a homeless man in the Winco parking lot during Salem's 2019 point-in-time homeless count. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Local homeless service providers still need 30 volunteers to help with an annual count of homeless people in Marion and Polk counties this Wednesday, Jan. 29.

The count is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and determines how much federal money a city or region receives toward addressing homelessness.

“We’re at a crisis point in Marion and Polk county where we can’t afford not to put our best foot forward,” said Ashley Hamilton, director of The ARCHES Project, which is running the count.

Last year, volunteers counted 341 unsheltered people in Salem.

“I think we all know that is nowhere close to accurate,” Hamilton said.

She said ARCHES has partnered with other shelters and service providers across Marion and Polk county in hopes of getting the most accurate count possible. They’re putting special focus on rural Marion County, which has gone undercounted in past years.

“This is our best chance to be able to really showcase: this is our need level and this is what it’s going to take to get us out of this,” she said.

Volunteers will fan out across the region Wednesday with a survey aimed at counting everyone who spends Tuesday night unsheltered, whether in a car, tent or sleeping on the streets. Service providers separately count homeless people living in shelters or temporary housing to arrive at a total figure.

The outreach is run by experienced team leaders who can train volunteers before the count, including day of.

For the first time this year, volunteers can enter people they talk to using an app on their phones rather than paper forms that have to be tabulated by hand.

Hamilton said that will make the turnaround for results much faster.

“We’re bringing the point in time count into the 21st century,” she said.

Though the count is meant to capture people homeless on a single winter night, ARCHES has one week to fill out surveys. So long as someone was unsheltered the night of Jan. 28, they can be counted anytime during the week.

Volunteers are also needed for a Saturday, Feb. 1 event for homeless residents at Capital Park Wesleyan Church. There, people can find service providers, receive dental treatment, get a meal and have their dogs groomed on site.

Hamilton said that event will give volunteers another chance to count people they may miss on Wednesday.

Those interested in helping can contact Hamilton at [email protected] or call ARCHES at (503) 399-9080.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: (503) 575-1241 or [email protected]