Volunteers record living conditions of Rapid City's homeless population

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RAPID CITY, S.D. -

Community members took to the streets on Tuesday night to get a better idea of the size and well-being of Rapid City’s homeless population.

“Depending on numbers, anywhere from 8,000 to 16,000 in Rapid City are living in poverty," said Black Hills Regional Homeless Coalition President Anna Quinn, "and when you look at cost of living and wages here in town, it really wouldn’t take a lot for people to end up on the streets,”

During the annual Point in Time Count, a survey designed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is administered by the Black Hills Regional Homeless Coalition. During the count, volunteers from the Cornerstone Rescue Mission, Working Against Violence Inc, and other local organizations locate and survey homeless people.

The count includes people living in hotels, in cars, and on the streets.

Volunteers record statistics and living conditions. The data is then sent to Housing and Urban Development to determine annual funding for local resources.

During the count, volunteers passed out hats, gloves and food. They also paired homeless people up with any necessary social services.

“The biggest thing is making sure the teams are prepared for just about anything,” said Healthcare for the Homeless Director Andrea Denke. “If we have a medical emergency, if someone needs a resource, we’re going out there prepared.”

The survey is administered in January, because officials say the number of people living on the streets is statistically lower now than in the summer. This doesn’t always account for all homeless people, however.

“Unfortunately, we run into some barriers there, because some people are what we considered "doubled up" and are staying with family or friends," said Denke. "So those people don’t get captured, because they’re not considered homeless."

Last year, volunteers counted over 300 homeless people in Rapid City. Nationally, the number is on the rise. Quinn also said that homelessness can happen to just about anyone.

“In the United States as a whole, they say that 75 percent of people are about three months away from being homeless if there’s something that happened or if they have a health crisis or something like that," said Quinn. "And it’s no different in Rapid City.”

For some, reaching out to the city’s homeless population is all about making sure nobody is alone.

“I would hope that it would mean that the people that we’re trying to survey understand there are services out there, that there’s not always dead ends,” said Denke. “I think a lot of people will fall through the cracks, they’ll start losing hope, and they wont know where to go for resources. They’ll get turned away, and just get stuck.”

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