The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

January 24, 2012

Homeless get counted

Social service staff, volunteers look for those without homes

It’s common knowledge there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of homeless people in Ashtabula County, right?

Perhaps, but when the official Point In Time Count was done for Housing and Urban Development last year, only 14 homeless persons were counted in a 24-hour census period. So where are all the homeless people?

Starting at the stroke of midnight Monday and continuing through midnight today, social services staff and volunteers are working to find and document the county’s homeless as the HUD-mandated Point In Time Count is conducted. The count is an activity of the Ashtabula Housing Council, which is designed to provide a “continuum of care” to the county’s homeless.

Jill Valentic, assistant director for Catholic Charities of Ashtabula County, said while the count is not new, the level to which agencies are taking it this year is.

“We’re making an effort to have a better, more accurate picture (of homelessness) in this county through a great collaboration of the agencies in the county,” Valentic said.

“We want to make sure that we’re capturing the numbers. We’ve tried to connect with the other agencies that might have connections to people who are homeless,” said Carmen Kuula, director of development for Ashtabula County Community Action Agency.

Catholic Charities, Community Action, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Samaritan House and HomeSafe are among agencies working on the count with Tammy Warner, who serves as a consultant to the Ashtabula County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board. The city of Ashtabula and  county sheriff also will participate in the effort.

Agencies that work with homeless residents will report their numbers to the effort as in the past, but volunteers will also spread out across the county to places where homeless people find relief from their misery.

“We’re going to do a lot of observation in some places,” Valentic said.

If the volunteers have strong reason to suspect that the person or persons they observe are homeless, they may attempt to ask questions, such as what their situation is and how they got into it. They also will reach out with assistance — the Salvation Army is providing bagged lunches and the Red Cross is making blankets available. And information about resources will be offered.

Valentic said the data collected today will be reported to both HUD and the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. The new methodology employed will be studied and tweaked for future years.

“We’re creating a template this year that will be a stepping-stone for (the count) next year,” Valentic said.

“Homeless” is defined as someone living in places not meant for human habitation, such as cars, parks and places without utilities. Persons or families who are at risk of being homeless in the next 14 days as a result of an eviction notice also will be counted. Persons in Ashtabula County transitional housing, domestic violence shelters or on waiting lists for these services will be counted, as well.

“This is a snapshot, a point in time,” Valentic said.

Volunteers planned to be out early today and work late as they canvass the county for the homeless. But they can’t be everywhere, and Catholic Charities welcomes reports of homeless individuals living in vacant buildings, cars, tents or the street. To report a situation, call Valentic today at 992-2121, and leave a message.

Kuula said having strong, accurate data is important when agencies seek grants for programming.

“Any time you are looking for funding for programs, you have to be able to demonstrate that the needs exist,” Kuula said. Providers like Kuula suspect the 14 counted last year don’t tell the whole story of homelessness in Ashtabula County.

“We expect it is higher than that with so much that has been happening in the housing market,” Kuula said.

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