EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Wednesday night is one of two nights during the year when get a picture of how many people live in our communities without a place to call their own.
It is a count that happens nationwide on the last Wednesday in both January and July. The numbers are sent to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But in Eau Claire, there is a twist.
"About a year ago we decided we wanted to switch some stuff up," said Kristina Malec, a volunteer organizer for a pre-count event at the Community Table.
It is not just about counting, but bringing people together.
"And instead of us going out to look for them, we wanted to get them to come to us," she said.
On Wednesday, that meant a chili contest at the Community Table. It also included free chiropractic checks, flu shots, and haircuts. 10 organizations set up in one spot to help the homeless.
"The underlying purpose is the count but we wanted to turn it into something a little more fun, not just how many homeless people there are," she added.
That awareness makes it easier to get the word out about the count, since Malec says not all homeless people want to be found.
"If we can have people come to us and identify themselves as being homeless, that kind of protects where they're staying and that allows them to be counted then," said Kelly Christianson, the Director of Interfaith Hospitality in Eau Claire.
For others living visibly, volunteers will be out in Eau Claire from midnight to 2:00 a.m. Anyone sleeping outside will be asked to take a short survey and offered blankets and sweatshirts.
And even though it will give us a snapshot of how many people are homeless in our communities, Christianson says it will not be the full picture.
"So it really is designed for an urban area where people are canvassing every block, but we won't be doing that here, because that's not the type of homelessness we have," she added.