Wednesday morning meant opportunity for Ramona Sey.
She had an early start as a volunteer with GRACE Marketplace, but waking up to a still dark sky didn’t dampen her mood.
“I’m the kind of person who would do anything to just help somebody else,” Sey said. “That’s who I am.”
She and 60 other volunteers were sent into homeless communities to survey Alachua County’s homeless population and give its members toiletry bags full of necessities like socks, snacks and hygiene items.
The survey marked the 16th annual point-in-time survey. Its purpose is to assess the number of homeless people in five North Central Florida counties. But while the census aims to count how many homeless people are out there, it also serves another purpose.
Gainesville City Commissioner Helen Warren said city leaders are trying to figure out the needs of the homeless community.
“Our lives aren’t just so simple that shelter is the only thing that people need,” Warren said. “There’s other services that could be provided.”
Those services mean something more to about half the volunteers collecting survey responses. Volunteers like Sey, who is homeless herself.
“I seen that they were doing a class on the surveying,” she said. “If I can get out there and help as much as I can, I will.”
GRACE Marketplace offered an hourly salary of $10 to homeless people willing to go into communities and find out how many homeless people there are and what they need. Sey and other volunteers also help connect GRACE Marketplace with the homeless by helping the organization reach people they otherwise wouldn’t be able to find.
The survey asks about health care, legal services, and child care.
Last year, the survey found more than 780 homeless people in Alachua County. GRACE Marketplace Director Jon DeCarmine doesn’t expect this year’s numbers to vary too much from that.
While she can’t ignore the difficulties of living without a home, Sey said the support shown for the city’s homeless population offers hope.
“I wouldn’t call it settling down… but once you meet the people, you realize it’s like a neighborhood,” Sey said. “We’re our own family. To me, it’s home.”
The census in Alachua County ended Wednesday night, but the results won’t be released until mid-February. The census continues Thursday in outlying counties such as Bradford, Gilchrist, Putnam, and Levy.