FARMINGTON, Maine — Two Farmington men with military connections are looking for a team of volunteers to help count the homeless, particularly veterans, in Franklin County.
Nicholas King, a U.S. Naval Reservist, and Michael Smilek, a Vietnam veteran, are the team leaders for the county. They need volunteers to help conduct a Department of Housing and Urban Development survey of the homeless, Smilek said.
Pairs of volunteers are being sought to count the homeless in 19 communities in Franklin County, King said.
The count takes place Jan. 30, and volunteers will receive training in December. They may spend time before that checking places and speaking with people in their assigned community.
Volunteers are asked to contact any agencies and organizations within their assigned town, such as police stations, food closets, churches, local markets or Laundromats, Smilek said. They will also put up fliers.
The count is used by HUD to help set the level of state funding for homeless people. This year the count is in Franklin, Oxford and Androscoggin counties.
The headcount is to find any homeless,but there’s an impetus to find veterans, King said. There are extra services available for them through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
It could be difficult because sometimes veterans don’t want to seek assistance, Smilek said. They are not aware of benefits available for them because they don’t go through the VA.
Volunteering involves talking with people who may know of veterans who are living in their cars or couch surfing, King said. Franklin County does not have a homeless shelter.
Maine’s veteran population was 2,593 as of this past March, with estimates of 300 to 700 of them homeless, Smilek said.
The federal funds, which are allocated based on the percentage of homeless veterans, helps provide veterans with a place to stay, increases the resources for the local VA to help find them places, assists with counseling or medication, rehabilitation and transition to a work environment or things as simple as providing transportation for their appointments, Smilek said.
“It’s time for veterans to help out veterans,” King said.
Anyone who knows a homeless person or veteran or thinks they know someone is asked to let them know. The survey is confidential and voluntary.
Jerry DeWitt, a VISTA volunteer who works with veterans at Tri-County Mental Health Services, and Rich Oberg, a team leader with the Maine Military and Community Network, are coordinating the searchers. DeWitt chose Smilek and King to help lead the effort in Franklin County.
To volunteer in Franklin County, contact King at 1-919-449-4429 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Smilek at 860-2578 or email@example.com