By COURTNEY SPRADLIN

LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

A homeless count led locally by Bethlehem House revealed a preliminary number of 104 homeless individuals in Conway, the shelter’s executive director said Thursday.

The count is incomplete, said Judi Lively, until Conway schools and other agencies report back.

Lively said Bethlehem House, a transitional shelter for men, women and families, has been part of the Toad Suck Continuum of Care group to conduct the count every other year as required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The count is now required yearly by HUD.

The Toad Suck Continuum of Care is made up of individuals and service organizations from Faulkner, Conway and Perry counties that work to resolve homelessness.

The results of the group’s count affects the shelter and program’s funding, Lively said.

Certain grants are available based on the homeless population.

A count held in January 2011 revealed 173 homeless individuals in Faulkner County.

A breakdown of the number showed 66 were under some type of shelter, and 52 were children found in the county’s public schools.

A homeless individual as defined by agencies like Bethlehem House is someone who lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.

A person is considered homeless if his or her nighttime residence is a public or private place not meant for human habitation, or if the nighttime residence is a homeless shelter.

Lively said as volunteers and employees went out to conduct the count Wednesday, they came across campsites, "but there are also just people living in a place not meant for human habitation."

"There are people who live in their vehicles. Some live in houses that have been pushed down or burned. Of course they also live in old campers with no running water or electricity," Lively said.

About 30 people were involved in the count, she said, from CAPCA, Salvation Army, the Women’s Shelter of Central Arkansas, schools, and other United Way agencies.

Notices were posted around Conway that the count would be conducted Wednesday, and homeless individuals were to report to the agencies or Bethlehem House to be counted.

Finding homeless dwellings or camps in rural areas of the county has been difficult, Lively said. The organization will rely heavily on public schools to report homeless children and families.

Mount Vernon and Enola have in the past returned several individuals who live in unfit dwellings, a volunteer said.

An observation from the count Lively shared Thursday was that several counted Wednesday were also counted in previous years.

"There’s a problem with chronic homelessness, and we are working toward resolving that," Lively said.

A finalized number for the point-in-time count is expected early next week.

Bethlehem House announced earlier this month the group reached its $1.3 million goal to build a new shelter.

Construction at Parkway near downtown Conway will begin soon, Lively said. The group’s building permit was received Friday.

Bethlehem House’s annual Valentine Gala fund raiser is set for Friday, Feb. 1 at oneChurch on Front Street.

Tickets to the event are available at the group’s website, www.bethlehemhouse.net, or at the shelter on Faulkner Street.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at courtney.spradlin@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)