OGDEN -- Myrna Hart was out on the streets, the same kind she used to call home. She joined about 20 other volunteers Wednesday night to survey the homeless men and women on the streets of Weber County for the state's annual head count.
Over the course of five hours, the volunteers found 43 individuals, including five groups of homeless people, each camping together for the night.
Having been homeless herself in the late 1990s, Hart knew where to look, what to look for, even who to look for.
"That's Bill," she said, pointing out a man in a blue jacket strolling through the Weber County Library, where she knew they would find a few homeless people that night -- and did.
"Hey, Bill, we need you to do a survey."
He was more than happy.
The 14-question survey tallies how long, how often and where people have been homeless, as well as their age, race, gender and history with illness, drugs and the military. The volunteers also ask the homeless where they are sleeping that night.
The survey results help the state decide where to target its resources.
Once they were through with questions, Myrna and her three teammates handed Bill Walker a blanket, hygiene kit and a stocking hat filled with food.
The Weber Housing Authority, charged with conducting the survey each year, made sure each survey group had a few gifts to pass out to the homeless they encountered.
"I bet they go a whole day without someone even saying hello to them," Landon Halverson, executive director of Weber Housing Authority, said as he drove near the Ogden River, looking for men and women out in the cold with nowhere to go.
"Even just saying, 'Hello, how are you doing?' That can make a difference in anybody's day."
Almost everyone Hart and her group met that night was all smiles and expressed gratitude for the gifts.
But it was a moment of levity in lives that have seen easier days.
"It's tough," said a homeless man who did not want to be identified.
"This is the only prayer we have, this here," he said, pointing to St. Anne's Center, the brightest-lit landmark in a dim corner of nighttime Ogden.
At least two other people Hart and her teammates found that night were also on their way to the shelter.
They were among the 43 men and women the volunteers counted by 1:30 a.m., later than they had stayed out the year before.
Hart's group found eight or so more people than last year, and Halverson believes staying out later is the reason.
After 10 p.m., most people are inside and getting ready for bed, leaving most of the ones still out on the streets easier to identify as people who do not have a home.
The state projects 15,642 people were homeless last year. The state probably will not have this year's projected totals until next month, once surveyors factor in results from the state's other survey efforts that continue throughout next week.
But what Ogden's social workers do know is that St. Anne's is getting crowded. It was originally designed with three rooms for homeless families.
"Now it's triple-booked for the rooms," Halverson said.
The fastest-growing demographic in the community for the past few years has been homeless families, he said.
The city is trying to fix that.
A campaign is under way to raise money for a new homeless shelter a few blocks from St. Anne's that will cost about $4 million to build.
The new shelter will be the latest effort by the city and county to get the homeless back on their feet, on top of its existing programs, Halverson said.
He knows the homeless can get their lives back on track. Some of his own co-workers used to be in that situation.
But they, like Hart, were able to find stable housing and a stable life through outside help and their own strength.
"It does happen," he said.
The lot the city has picked for the new shelter is now a fenced-off mess of overgrown vegetation at 33rd Street and Pacific Avenue. In the midst of it, a broken tree sags against a heap of bricks and decaying wood. What was once a paintball arena looks run down and forgotten.
But it has the potential for a new start, with the community's help.