County Prepares To Count The Homeless

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On Tuesday, Jan. 28, temperatures are expected to reach a high of 4 degrees, with a low of -10.

It’s the perfect kind of day to hole up wherever you live, cuddle under a blanket and maybe sip hot cocoa.

That is, assuming you have a place to live.

Tuesday marks the annual Point in Time count, when communities across the nation take a day to count their homeless — people and families who’ve faced unfortunate circumstances that lead to their living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, cars, sheds or barns.

For the count, Integrated Services of Appalachia Ohio is considered the lead agency for the region’s seven counties: Athens, Hocking, Perry, Vinton, Jackson, Meigs and Gallia.

“We find them all year long,” said Terri Gillespie, regional coordinator for Integrated Services, an agency that, among other things, helps to stabilize homeless individuals and find them affordable housing. “This is just a snapshot used to see what areas are most in need.”

In addition to collecting the data from all seven counties, the staff at Integrated Services is responsible for identifying which of their clients count.

The agency also relies heavily on the help of various other organizations, like Good Works, My Sister’s Place, the Salvation Army, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, Athens County Children Services, Hopewell Health Centers, area churches and the community at large, to find them.

“We can’t do it alone; it really does take the larger community,” said Gillespie, adding that community members can help by calling 1-800-321-8293 if they know someone who is homeless.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires statistically reliable counts of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people for the communities seeking funds for their services, according to the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio.

The data is also used for other things, like supporting planning efforts, raising awareness and targeting interventions.

Last year, Athens County’s count identified 90 homeless people — 26 were living in emergency shelters, 26 were in transitional housing and 38 were considered unsheltered.

The vast majority were under the age of 18.

Many suffered from severe mental illness or were the victims of domestic violence.

What those numbers don’t capture, however, are the number of families who are doubled up in homes, says Darlene Lustgarten, Integrated Service’s housing specialist.

“In rural areas, people are a little more hidden,” Lustgarten said. “They might be in a barn or in a shed. It’s harder to identify. We rely on the community. There are lots of people who are overcrowded, too. As long as someone lets someone stay in their house for the night, they’re not considered homeless by HUD standards, even if they bounce from house to house.”

On the day of the count, data collectors, who will include those at food pantries and those who work at free meal sites, will be armed with a one-page survey to fill out each time they encounter someone in need of stable housing.