It might be difficult to believe that this extreme heat is actually working in anyone’s favor.

It might be difficult to believe that this extreme heat is actually working in anyone’s favor.


But, on Wednesday, it did just that for one group of Independence volunteers.


About 10 community members worked for 12 hours for the midyear point-in-time survey, which aims to count the number of homeless individuals in Independence. With many people seeking shelter at cooling centers, the dangerously hot weather allowed volunteers to survey more of the homeless population, said Doug Friend, CEO of Heroes Coming Home, an organization that helps homeless veterans, which oversaw Wednesday’s local effort.


Midday, Friend said volunteers would likely count “hundreds” of homeless citizens in Independence, by his estimations. Friend had to guess the number of how many would be counted by the day’s end, but he did know one thing for certain: Fewer homeless people were counted at the last Independence point-in-time in January, because of the mild winter the city experienced and fewer people being accessible.


“As we would go up and see them, they would take off running because they didn’t know who we were,” Friend said of the count in January. “There’s a big fear with the homeless population of, ‘What are these people trying to get from me?’”


In addition to visiting the cooling centers and the Lunch Partners program, the volunteers worked with the Independence Police Department in determining the likely locations for homeless citizens, including several known camp sites along U.S. 24 and in several wooded areas.


The survey administered by volunteers is kept confidential and is used toward grant applications for federal programs that assist the homeless population. Respondents are asked to provide just the first letter of their first name and the first three letters of the head of the household’s name.


The series of about a dozen questions asked include where the person or family spent the night on Tuesday and whether it was unsheltered or sheltered. Individuals also respond how long they’ve been homeless, whether they served in the military, what factors they believe contributed toward their homelessness and what services they need to receive that they haven’t already. The collected data are then turned over to the Homeless Services Coalition of Greater Kansas City.


Karen, who asked to not give her last name, is a 53-year-old single woman who also participated in January’s point-in-time count. She estimates that she’s been homeless for more than a year, often sleeping on a piece of cardboard behind a building, although she is currently staying with a volunteer from the Lunch Partners program, where Karen also helps out.


Unable to hold a steady job since her late teens, Karen is bipolar and says she is currently without her needed medication. She said she also has a history of drug and alcohol abuse – that, coupled with her mental illness, led to her homelessness, Karen said.


Karen said she appreciates the point-in-time count because it allows homeless people like herself to have a voice in the community.


“People need to hear us,” she said. “We’ve got feelings, too. Some of them might look all straggly and yucky, but we’re unfortunate. It don’t mean that we’re mean or violent.”


A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Friend said he was homeless himself for about nine months before he was able to receive support services through the state and in Independence. Many angles of homelessness exist, he said, and the homeless population often feels shame and mistrust.


“A lot of people are in denial or are ashamed of their situation,” Friend said, “so they say, ‘Yes, I am living on my own, or I’m living in an apartment,’ when they are living actually under the bridge.”


At-Large Council Member Jim Schultz volunteered Wednesday night during the weekly homeless dinner at Stone Church. Schultz, who founded the Independence Hungry and Homeless Coalition, stressed the importance of the twice-a-year point-in-time counts.


“We want to make sure we get our fair share and help as many folks as we can,” Schultz said. “It’s also a good thing for the community to know. It’s almost like a barometer of where we’re at, what we’re doing and what we can do better.”


Friend said he wants the greater community to know that homeless individuals “are just like you and me,” and that in our area, more and more families are just one paycheck away from being in the same situation.


“I don’t believe that it will ever end,” Friend said, “but we can make a difference by what we’re doing and the service that we also provide.”