By: Katie Sobiech
On January 25th of every year, members of the Continuum of Care (CoC) for the Homeless of Summit County take a count of all the homeless individuals in our area.
“Today is a one day snapshot of what homelessness looks like in our community,” Fred Berry, Housing Services Manager at Info Line Inc., said.
“The reason we do this is so that our community can stay competitive with agencies across the country,” Sue Pierson, Director of Info Line, said.
By engaging in the Point in Time Count (PTC), the CoC can apply for funding from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to bring 3.3 million dollars into the community for various agencies.
“There are agencies that are building apartments and renovating buildings to put people in that are homeless. It could be battered women, those with children, those with drug or alcohol problems, or the mentally ill,” Pierson explained, “We continue to be involved in this so that we can bring money into the community.”
HUD requires that all agencies that receive funding do a count every 2 years.
“As a community we’ve chosen to be very proactive and do it every year,” Berry said.
Ohio does a statewide count, with 9 CoC’s located in every major metropolitan area.
On the 25th, people from various agencies set up stations at local homeless “hot spots”. This includes soup kitchens, shelters, the library and the metro station.
This is where they count the homeless during the day.
Upon their arrival and cooperation in answering some simple questions, the homeless are given gift bags, clothing and gift cards.
“We like to have giveaways to encourage people to interact and make sure they get counted,” Joseph Scalise, Housing Coordinator at Ohio Multi County Development Corp., said.
Basic information is collected, which will be submitted to HUD. Information such as whether they are veterans, disabled, struggling with substance abuse, mental health issues or AIDS/HIV is also recorded.
Vicki Shockey, once homeless herself, arrived at the Metro Transit Center at 9:40 a.m. to pass out street cards.
“I know a lot of homeless people and people who ride the buses so I bring them in to fill out the paperwork,” she said.
“It’s been a good day, we’ve had a great turnout,” Candice Lacey from H.M. Life Opportunity Services said, “We’ve been coming across a lot of veterans, which is a population that’s really underserved. We’ve been getting them hooked up with the resources they need.”
“We have care packages with hygiene products, food, bus passes and subway gift cards that were all donated. It’s my first time doing this and I’m in awe,” Shannon Collins, also with H.M. Life Opportunity Services said
This Year’s Focus and Findings
HUD has asked that the PTC focus in on un-accompanied youth this year (those under the age of 18).
“There is data show there’s a trend that un-accompanied youth are on the increase, so they want us to collect the information to see what’s going on there,” Berry said.
“We’re also seeing an increase in those who are 55 and over,” he said.
They paid close attention to the veterans as well.
“We want to know all about our veterans. HUD is really honing in on the veteran population because one of the goals of the federal plan to end homelessness is to end homelessness amongst veterans in 5 years,” Berry continued.
Sixty homeless individuals were counted by volunteers from Project Rise at the library by noon.
Rain, snow, or shine, search teams of volunteers go out and count the homeless on the streets, in the woods and under bridges at night, since they are normally out and about during the day. The count starts at 7:00 p.m. and normally goes until11:00 p.m.
“The police are aware that we’re out tonight. They’ve got cruisers in each one of the areas we’re going to be counting and they’ve committed a few officers to accompany some of us as well,” Scalise said.
When approaching the homeless, they’re normally receptive.
“They know there are people out there advocating for them and putting forth this effort to make sure they are represented in terms of funding and solving these problems that we’re facing with homelessness,” Scalise said.
“We try to explain to them that the reason we’re doing this is to bring more funds into our area to solve these problems. They’re happy to hear that,” he continued.
This year was Jasmine Pace’s, University of Akron student’s, first time out. She volunteered with many other students as a part of the Urban Living Studies class.
Pierson also highlighted the fact that the PTC raises the issue of homelessness within the community. She and Berry took in 40 phone calls from people who donated both money and items for the homeless.
“They’ve brought out so many things that we’ll be able to take out and share with the homeless,” she said.
Volunteers from local churches, businesses, and organizations, and students from the University of Akron all gathered on the cold evening for this cause.
“In prep for this we did a fundraising 5k run and raised $6,000 which we spent on blankets and giveaways,” Scalise shared.
Though the count is just one day, efforts to find solutions to ending homelessness in Summit County continue on all year round. If you are interested in becoming a part of the solution and joining any of the CoC groups please contact Helen Tomic, City Planner, at 330.375.2090. The CoC holds monthly meetings that they welcome you to be a part of!