Statewide homelessness count held

Denise Coffey | January 31, 2012 | Access Agency; Community Action; Transitional Housing; Homelessness Count; CAFCA; Connecticut Association for Community Action

On Jan. 25, staff members at shelters and transitional housing programs across the state conducted a point in time homelessness count. The count is an attempt to get a snapshot of the number of homeless people that state agencies and other agencies are trying to help. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is behind the count, requiring that all states conduct them and report their findings every two years. The counts must be done during the last week in January. HUD doesn't require this year's count to be reported, but many agencies do them in order to get realistic numbers of the population they serve. The counts are used to determine funding amounts awarded to different areas of the state.

Windham Regional Community Council Executive Director Jeffrey Beadle said that 15 sites in 20 towns that make up Windham and Tolland counties were part of the count. Beadle expects the numbers to be tabulated by mid-February. “Every town has to be covered,” Beadle said. “It's coordinated nationwide.”

Last year, 220 people were counted as homeless in Windham County, according to Beadle. In 2011, the HUD-mandated count included not only those in shelters, but those living on the streets, in the woods and in buildings not meant for habitation. Those counts are more difficult to conduct because volunteers must try to find people who are homeless but aren't living in shelters. Many of these people don't want to be found.

Carl Asikainen, who works with the Thompson Ecumenical Empowerment Group, has helped conduct the HUD counts for the last five years. The rural nature of the area presents special challenges when trying to count people living outside of shelters, he said.

“You have to use all the tools that you have, and it's still really hard to count because when you’re living in your car, you don’t want to be seen. You don’t want people to know. You don’t want people to know the place on public land where you might be living. It’s tricky.”

Access Agency Director of Homelessness Prevention Deborah Smith said, “Most homeless who are not in shelters live in seasonal camp grounds, makeshift tents in wooded areas or doubled- and tripled-up with friends and relatives.” Access programs, and their collaboration with community service providers, including landlords and faith-based groups, aim to reduce the amount of homelessness in the state. Smith said she has seen a decrease in numbers in recent years, but the counts are important to help understand the dynamics of homelessness and the effectiveness of programs serving this population.

No Freeze Hospitality Center Director Leah Duffy agrees that the count process isn't the most effective for rural Connecticut. “We have always felt up here in the northeast corner the count process isn't great,” she said. It works better in an urban environment, she said, because people are more easily accessible. “You see them on the street and walk up to them. Folks know where people are staying.” It's not the same in the northeast, she said. “It's very difficult. There's no way to capture those folks. And yet people know they are there.”

The No Freeze Center in Willimantic is a temporary overnight shelter with a regional approach, according to Duffy. Anyone is welcome to stay overnight. Beds are given on a first-come, first-served basis, but people are allowed to stay overnight in chairs if they have no other place to go.

Duffy has seen an increase in the number of people coming through the door. “Not only are the numbers increasing, but the opportunities for them to move on are becoming less and less,” she said. “We're seeing more people coming through the door that just don't have income. Less people are able to move on, and more people are stuck here.”

TEEG receives calls on a regular basis from people in desperate need of housing. Two calls came in this past week, according to Asikainen. “We get calls weekly,” he said. “There aren't a lot of resources.”

“It's not a matter of simply putting a chronically homeless person in a house and closing the case,” said Smith. “We must continue to collect reliable data to understand the causes of homelessness and design effective interventions to help homeless people rebuild their lives.”

The count is very important, according to Asikainen. “It’s all tied to funding, and if we don’t start paying attention to the amounts of people that are living in their cars around here, then we won’t see any increases in services for people who are homeless,” he said.

Coffey, Denise. The Reminder News. "Statewide homelessness count held". January 31, 2012.

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