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Counting homeless veterans in winter is a challenge in the North Country

Jonathan Greenwald
Flickr, Creative Commons
During North Country winters, homeless veterans aren't visible.

At least every couple of years – in the middle of the winter – federal officials try to count how many people are homeless in the U.S.

Agencies who work with the homeless give out a survey called the point-in-time count, and that’s what’s happening all this week.

It’s bad timing in the North Country, according to advocates for the homeless. They say a lot of people are skipped over, leading to inaccurate numbers.

At the Veteran’s Center in Watertown during Tuesday's count, it was very quiet. It looks like a doctor’s waiting area. There are magazines spread out on the coffee table,  except there isn’t anyone waiting. So far, only one homeless veteran has come in.

“The day of the counting is supposed to be this one day counting of our homeless population. However, the homeless do no collect in one area, one day," said Deb Baxter, a social worker here.

There are no homeless shelters in Watertown or anywhere in Jefferson County. That means Baxter is relying on the homeless veteran population to come to her. She says the bleak turnout today doesn’t reflect the need that's out there.

“Just working with the rural population, is a challenge to find them. However, I’m not short of business. Every month I get probably 10 new people that I help to guide. So 40 is what we have now. I’m always full.”

Baxter says today’s count isn’t that much of a big deal to her. She’s sure the Veterans Administration will continue to supply funding to homeless vets. If numbers are low today, Baxter says she’s sure her phone will ring tomorrow.