United Way counts the homeless and tells their tales 

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Most of the people you pass on the streets don't look homeless, but Amy Dinofrio says that some of them probably are.

Homelessness isn't something you wear.

Pikes Peak United Way's chief operating officer says that's one message she hopes people take away from the nonprofit's upcoming series of events, called "31 Days of Homelessness," which started this week.

The series will include two viewings of the documentary film American Winter, which follows eight families trying to survive the Great Recession. The screenings are scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, on both the Colorado College and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campuses. The film is free, but donations are encouraged. Panel discussions will follow the film.

Other activities include tours of Springs Rescue Mission, Catholic Charities of Central Colorado's Marian House, Homeward Pikes Peak and other nonprofits that help homeless people. United Way will conduct one-hour simulations of what it's like to be homeless. Participants will wind their way through various challenges and contact service providers.

"It actually puts someone in the shoes of homeless people," Dinofrio says.

The series is just one of many major undertakings that have crowded United Way's calendar recently. Monday, United Way conducted its annual Point In Time survey, better known as the "homeless headcount." Trained volunteers and nonprofit staff conducted the count of the city's homeless, striving to include as many people as possible. The annual survey is used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine funding for local homeless providers, together called the Continuum of Care.

The survey, whose results will be available later this year, also provides valuable information on the needs of homeless people, particularly the unsheltered. Anne Beer, United Way's vice president of income and housing stability, says this year's survey included new questions. Since the city is striving to house all homeless vets with help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the survey asked veterans to provide their personal information. It also asked whether gender identity or sexual orientation contributed to a person's homelessness, and if the person was ever in foster care or the Division of Youth Corrections.

Beer says the purpose of the last two questions is to better understand the root causes of homelessness, so that the Continuum can do more.

Speaking of helping people, United Way is offering free income tax preparation to families with a household income of less than $54,000. Volunteers trained by the Internal Revenue Service will help families with taxes, including whether they are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Last year, Dinofrio says that United Way volunteers helped more than 2,000 people file their returns, which totaled $2.1 million in refunds.

For more about United Way programs, call 2-1-1 or visit ppunitedway.org.


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