April 28, 2005
"I think those metal poles were the corner posts that he used," Evan Scully from the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission speculated.
Every winter, Scully wakes before dawn and combs the woods of central Virginia. He is looking for homeless people for his annual census.
This year, he found remnants of camps such as old mattresses, tents, and fire pits, but he didn't find anyone sleeping in the woods. However, that does not mean that there are not any homeless people.
In fact, the number rose this year from 156 to 175.
This seemingly contradictory data means more homeless people are finding a better place to sleep than in the woods.
"We are very heartened to hear that the census numbers were down for people unsheltered and we feel PACEM is largely responsible for making sure that there is a pillow for every head," said PACEM Coordinator Dave Norris.
PACEM, or People And Congregations Engaged in Ministry, is a band of churches that provide shelter for homeless men in the winter.
They take in men who choose not to, or are not allowed, to stay at the salvation army.
"We offer a month up front, and that is essentially a chance to show, to find a job and show that they are willing to save [money]. Then if they're doing that, we continue with them until they are ready to leave," said Dave Gilbert from the Salvation Army.
If the Salvation Army guests are not willing to work and get a place of their own, then they are out.
"I know some guys going to the Salvation Army, they go into the Salvation Army, half high. You cannot go into the Salvation Army half drunk. They will put you out," said Jessie Wicks, a guest at PACEM.
But those put out now have a place to go.
This is the first of a 2-part series on our own city's battle with homelessness. For details, please see part 2, entitled 'Homeless Speak Out.'