- Associated Press - Friday, January 29, 2016

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - On a cold winter’s night, volunteers and charity officials fanned out across the Omaha metropolitan area to count the homeless people who took shelter in urban caves and crevices instead of finding warmth and comfort on a charity cot or bunk.

About 50 volunteers went out Thursday night in Douglas and Sarpy County in Nebraska and in Pottawattamie County across the Missouri River in Iowa.

“They could be anywhere: in an alleyway, a crevice, anywhere there’s cover,” said Gary Hankins, an outreach worker with Community Alliance of Omaha. “You never know.”

The yearly count of homeless people in and out of shelters is required for federal assistance and must occur during the last 10 days of January, officials said. The programs participating in the count received $4.3 million in federal funding last year.

Lisa Vukov, assistant director at the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless, said the count also helps agencies measure the effectiveness of their programs.

“This lets us know what homelessness looks like in our community,” she told the Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/1nCP0sM ).

Agency officials have learned from past counts that about 30 percent of the metro area’s homeless have mental illnesses and that chronic homelessness and the number of homeless veterans are declining because of more federal funding, Vukov said.

Figures from Thursday night’s count weren’t available yet. Last year’s tally was nearly 1,500, with all but 44 of those staying in a shelter, officials said.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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