LEWISTON — A one-day initiative aimed at boosting federal funding to fight area homelessness — by seeking out uncounted homeless people in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties — needs more volunteers.

“We never have enough volunteers,” said Jerry DeWitt, an organizer of the Jan. 29 count and a Vista worker at Tri-County Mental Health. “I’m definitely asking for more.”

Organizer Rich Oberg agreed.

“We’re putting together teams. We need as many volunteers as we can get in all areas,” said Oberg, who heads the three counties’ group for the Maine Military and Community Network. The numbers will rise, he said.

The reason is simple. Organizers plan to look in more places than ever before; in soup kitchens, food pantries and anywhere else someone can spend a few minutes in a warm corner. Last year, volunteers counted 76 people among the three counties.

“I’ll bet money we’re going to find more homeless people,” he said.

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The idea for local count grew from a nationwide count administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The results are used by the federal agency to help set funding to each state.

The impact is more than just money.

This year, more charities are lending a hand, in hopes that more aid can be offered to the population that is so often ignored. Catholic Charities, Preble Street and New Beginnings are all joining the local effort. They plan to give people fliers with phone numbers and other information about where they can get a hot meal or a place to sleep.

They’ll have extra information and services available for veterans.

Last year, five of the 76 people counted were veterans, but DeWitt, himself a veteran, said he is certain there are many more.

“We’re proud and it’s ingrained in us that we don’t ask for help; we just suck it up and keep on with the mission,” he said. “Only 30 percent of Maine veterans have signed up for their medical benefits. I’m still fighting that issue”

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Oberg said he is working with people in local towns to find people living in empty buildings. He also is hoping to get some volunteers who were formerly homeless to lend a hand.

They would have the best chance of aiding people who are untrusting of help.

Oberg said he also hopes to do a good job of supplying information to the federal government, despite changes over last year. He has already led training for volunteers on filling out the needed forms.

“HUD has made it more complex,” Oberg said. “I think this year we could be more effective. Data collection wasn’t as good as last year as it could be. We’re really striving to make sure we meet HUD’s requirements.”

Anyone wishing to volunteer is encouraged to call Jerry DeWitt at Tri-County Mental Health at 207-783-4663, ext. 228.

[email protected]


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