Homeless numbers up

more seek help

New survey shows 20% rise since '05, but fewer on street

March 04, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun reporter

Though the recent count of the homeless population in Harford County revealed a 20 percent increase over two years ago, more people are opting for shelters or other programs instead of living on the streets, county social services officials say.

The federally mandated count in late January tallied 145 homeless people countywide, including eight who decline to use the county's seasonal emergency shelter or other options.

"It is a large increase, but the breakdown shows more people are living in shelters and taking advantage of our transitional housing programs," said Elizabeth Meadows, community development coordinator of the county community services department, of the biennial count.

The 2005 count found 114 homeless people in Harford, with 17 living on the streets.

"We anticipated an increase," Meadows said. "It shows a need. The count is not ideal, but it reflects a number of people are in emergency or transitional housing."

The county's 28-bed shelter has been at capacity most of the winter, she said. Community services also has provided vouchers for motels for those who need housing.

County programs offer counseling and assist about 90 percent of clients in the transition from homelessness within two months, Meadows said.

Weather might have played a role in the survey results, she said. Volunteers and police who searched several sites that have been known as locations for the homeless expected to find about 25 people who do not use shelters. But the cold and snow might have driven some of those into indoors, perhaps to the homes of family or friends, Meadows said.

Of the eight people officials found on the night of the count, five took the survey, Meadows said. Caseworkers have attempted to make contact with all eight people since then.

"Hopefully, these people will be brought into services," Meadows said.

The survey results help the county develop new programs and improve existing services, as well as ensure federal funding. Harford receives more than $400,000 annually from the federal government to help shelter the homeless.

"These surveys force us to reassess where the need is," Meadows said. "It gives us another snapshot and helps us track data over a period of time."

The county spends about $2 million annually on shelters, transitional housing and educational programs, officials said.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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