LEWISTON — Trici Schamel took a seat inside Lewiston’s 12 Hour Club, dropped her clipboard and lit a cigarette.

At other moments Wednesday, the social worker walked the sidewalks past the tenements on Bartlett Street and chatted up folks inside the Trinity Jubilee Center. She never raised her voice to announce herself or her work: finding and counting homeless people.

“It’s almost like hunting,” Schamel said, trying to be patient. “You settle. You let the nervousness wear off.”

And you hope that someone who needs help will appear.

Neither Schamel nor Wednesday’s other homeless searchers — 15 across Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties — believe they will have a full count of the people here who are homeless or are at risk of homelessness. Rather, they did what they could with the time they had. And they tried to connect with as many people as they could.

“Two men ran away when we told them what we were doing,” said Patricia Lehmann, who hunted with Schamel. “Many of the people we see have mental health issues.”

The count is part of a nationwide effort. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development uses it annually to help establish the need in each area for housing assistance money.

This was the second time such a count was done in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties. Last year, volunteers counted 76 people among the three counties.

This year’s numbers won’t be available for several days, once the forms and the names are tallied. However, Lehmann and Schamel, who work for Catholic Charities’ homeless program, PATH, found homeless people at the Trinity Center and at the Common Ties Mental Health Coalition on Pine Street.

They found none at the 12 Hour Club or the Lewiston Public Library. Maybe there were homeless people at those places too, but they didn’t identify themselves.

“You can’t tell someone is homeless just by looking at them,” Schamel said. “And they don’t have to talk to us.”

Count volunteers included people from several area agencies and charities including the American Red Cross, Preble Street and the Maine Military and Community Network. They checked the shelters and pantries.

In the Norway-South Paris area, Phil Allen, Preble Street’s veterans’ housing service coordinator, talked with charities, government groups and libraries. He also asked people in fast-food joints if they knew of someone homeless.

Among the people Allen found was a guy who’d been living in his car.

“He’d been in his car for four months,” Allen said. He gave the man information about available help and moved on.

Allen said he hopes to use the contacts he made this year to help next year.

Jerry DeWitt, serving with the Maine Military and Community Network, said he wants to do a better job next year. This year, he and the other volunteers waited for HUD to release its mandated forms before preparing for the count. Those didn’t arrive until late December, he said.

“We sort of started out behind the eight ball by about 30 to 60 days,” he said. “So, we didn’t have time to organize boots on the ground as much as we did last year.”

The time crunch led them to food pantries, shelters and libraries.

The homeless are here and they’re trying to survive, Lehmann said as she walked along Birch Street in Lewiston.

She wished more people cared and more people supported the shelters. More aid is needed, she said. Too many people still don’t know where they will sleep.

“This is the way it is,” she said.

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