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Homeless numbers on the rise in Northeast Ga.
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The number of homeless people in Hall County and surrounding areas increased in 2010.


As part of a nationwide Department of Community Affairs count at the end of January, 60 Georgia groups distributed surveys to ask the homeless where they stay and how they got there.


AVITA Community Partners received 168 forms in Hall County, and Ninth District Opportunity pulled in 142 surveys, with 60 in Dawson County, 25 in Lumpkin County and 57 in White County.


“We were really shocked, especially for Dawson. That’s high,” said Shawn Howell, a Ninth District Opportunity representative who organized the Northeast Georgia count. “We didn’t expect to get this much in a lot of these counties.”


In 2009, the state Department of Community Affairs estimated about 21,000 people were homeless in Georgia.


More than half were unsheltered or facing imminent loss of housing, and the other 43 percent were in emergency or transitional housing for victims of domestic violence.


The 2009 survey found between 100 to 500 homeless people in Hall, Habersham, Forsyth and Jackson counties, 51 to 100 homeless in Union and White counties and 26 to 50 homeless in Banks, Lumpkin and Dawson counties.


“One of the things that isn’t taken into account in our area towns, especially in Union and Rabun counties, is that a majority of workers are contractors and came into the area to do building,” Howell said. “With nobody buying, that left a lot of unemployed people with limited job skills, and it’s not improving.”


Volunteers and students from Brenau University and North Georgia College & State University helped AVITA to pass out surveys at local homeless shelters, the health department, food banks, housing authority centers and the Veterans Affairs Clinic in Oakwood.


The survey asked where the person spent a Sunday night in January, including how long the person had lived at the location, what factors led to homelessness and whether the person had worked in the last month.


Kennesaw State University will use the data to create a statistical estimate of the number of homeless individuals statewide and compare the rate of homelessness to the types of statewide resources available.


The data also determines how much funding counties receive from the Department of Community Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development for homeless care.


“A lot of people are asking for assistance right now, and the funding sources are starting to go away,” Howell said. “Though recent reports show the unemployment rate dropped nationally, the economic impact is still taking a toll in this area and we’re not seeing a lot of improvement.”