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‘Working towards a functional zero:’ As ‘homeless count’ begins, officials hope for another decrease

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee County's winter "homeless count" began on Wednesday night, Jan. 24. It's an effort to help keep the homeless out of the cold, and organizers were optimistic about what they'd find as they hit the streets.

The numbers in 2017 dipped quite a bit -- down from 1,500 men, woman and children in 2016 to 922 in 2017. This survey is important because the data helps the county when it comes to getting federal funds. The homeless count happens biannually.

"Milwaukee has been doing pretty great, actually. I'm very proud," Nancy Esteves, Institute for Community Alliances said. "All of that information is gathered and we send that over to our federal funders."

County officials and homeless advocates talked about their efforts earlier in the day -- saying they're making serious progress in addressing Milwaukee's homelessness problem. The homeless count is done during the coldest and warmest seasons, and offers a glimpse at who in the community is in need of help.

"Gather DOB, first name, last name and able to de-duplicate that information. We all know that well never get to zero, so we are working towards a functional zero. So the folks that are experiencing homelessness -- what are their needs? What services can we provide?" Esteves said.

As a task force hit the streets to find people sleeping under bridges and sidewalks --  handing out surveys and essential items like toiletries and blankets --  warming shelters would be open from 7 p.m. Wednesday until 7 a.m. Thursday -- with volunteers on hand.

"It's mental health acuity, job loss, family issues," Eric Collins-Dyke, county outreach services manager said.

County officials credit their Housing First program, targeting the chronically homeless, for the recent drop in numbers. While it's not likely the number will ever drop to zero, there's hope for a continued decrease.

"Every time we go out on the street, our goal is to work with individuals to get them off the street," Collins-Dyke said.

The results of the survey should be released by March.

If you know someone in need, you can always call 211 in the City of Milwaukee to be directed to resources that are available.