Homeless are to be counted

Census could help improve services, programs, federal funding

January 28, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Several Harford County agencies, along with police and about 30 volunteers, will conduct a biennial count of the homeless Tuesday.

The results will help in the creation of new programs and the improvement of existing services, as well as ensure federal funding for programs for the homeless, county officials say. Harford receives more than $400,000 annually from the federal government to house the homeless in the community. The county spends about $2 million on shelters and programs to prevent homelessness, officials said.

"We work to make people's time on the street as brief as possible and spend money on programs, such as eviction prevention, to help people avoid homelessness," said Elizabeth Meadows, community development coordinator at Harford's Department of Community Services.

The 2005 count identified 114 homeless people, about 17 of whom lived on the streets. The others resided in some type of emergency housing, including long-term transitional shelters, where they receive training in life and employment skills, as well as financial counseling.

Although county housing is increasingly costly, officials said they do not expect this year's homeless survey to show a marked increase.

"We will probably encounter about the same numbers or slightly higher, but not drastically so," said Meadows, who has worked with the homeless programs for the county for about two years.

County programs help about 90 percent of clients to transition out of homelessness within two months, Meadows said.

"But there is always about 10 percent who are more difficult to serve," she said. "They are those with barriers such as substance abuse or mental illnesses. Some have been on the streets so long that they are physically destabilized and their mental health has deteriorated."

The count occurs statewide during the last week of January, a time when many homeless people have moved into cold-weather shelters. The tally, which guarantees anonymity, will include those residing in temporary housing as well as an evening count, beginning at 7 p.m., of those living on the streets.

"Primarily, we are taking a snapshot of our homeless, those that are in shelters and on the street," Meadows said. "It is not a perfect count. We might miss some, but over the last month, we have identified known locations where we might find homeless people."

Often the homeless are a transient population, and limiting the count to one week helps avoid duplication and increase accuracy, officials said. Five teams with about eight workers each will do the evening count, driving vans primarily along the U.S. 40 corridor from Edgewood and Aberdeen to Havre de Grace and several locations in Bel Air.

The surveyors will ask a series of questions of those willing to answer. The queries will help determine the cause of homelessness as well as demographics and basic biographical data.

"We are there to do this count, not to run them off," Meadows said. "We will offer these people anonymity and protect their confidentiality."

The groups also will offer coffee, bag lunches, blankets, gloves, coats and hats.

"Within a month, we should have good numbers to use for our progress reports and action plans," Meadows said. "This survey should give us a better reflection of what is happening in Harford County."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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