Balto. Co. homeless count drops slightly from 2010 high

First-time, family homelessness raise concerns

March 13, 2011|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County's annual homeless count found 881 people without a permanent place to stay, a slight decline from last year, while surveyors found 291 single- and two-parent families.

The overall count changed by only 10 people, unlike in 2010, when the total jumped 25 percent. But officials as well as faith and community groups remain concerned with the level of first-time and family homelessness, said Sue Bull, the county's coordinator of homeless services. This year's survey was the first to have a category for homeless families

"There is a notable difference in the number of chronically homeless families, most of which are headed by a single parent," Bull said

Baltimore County, like jurisdictions across Maryland and the nation, has seen an increasing number of parents seeking emergency housing with their children. The number of homeless single parents and couples with children has more than doubled in the past five years, according to the county Department of Social Services.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, people with children are among the fastest-growing segments of the homeless population. A 2007 survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that families with children made up 23 percent of the homeless population.

Of those counted in the county, 27 percent are children living with their families, most of them in county shelters. The median age of survey participants was 31 to 50, and 57 percent were men. The volunteers found 59 military veterans, who are eligible for numerous benefits that officials said could help them overcome their situation.

The volunteers, who promised anonymity to those surveyed, asked 15 basic questions, including the cause of homelessness, where participants had slept the night before and whether they had any source of income. Eviction and job loss continue to be the primary causes for those who have lost their homes, Bull said.

"We keep hearing that the economic picture is getting better," said Joe Liberto, vice president of Baltimore County Communities for the Homeless, a volunteer advocacy group. "But there is a lag time and many are still struggling to pick up the pieces."

The data gathered is critical to securing money from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for transitional housing programs, outreach centers, havens from domestic violence, and shelters for families and singles. HUD requires jurisdictions to conduct a one-day survey, which the county calls "a snapshot in time," at least once every two years. Many jurisdictions do an annual count.

"These 881 are not the entire population," Bull said of the Baltimore County survey. "In one day, we could never find everyone. This is a much bigger issue."

Harford County's homeless numbers have increased steadily from 152 in 2009 to 243 this year. The county conducted its survey on Jan. 27, the day after a 10-inch snowfall. Its volunteers found 243 homeless, nearly all of whom were in shelters, including 29 families with children. Thirteen of those surveyed said they would have been on the streets, but they were doubled up with other homeless who had used the county's emergency motel vouchers. Nearly half of those counted were homeless for the first time.

"Although our numbers are increasing, we are sheltering people as well as we can, especially through the winter months," said Patricia Hammond, Harford's community development coordinator. "Our faith-based groups are serving us well during this time of funding challenges."

Baltimore City conducted an overnight count on Jan. 24 and expanded the areas surveyed. Officials do not expect to see the results until next month.

On any given day, 550 men, women and children are living in one of Baltimore County's homeless shelters, officials say. Counselors receive an average of 40 calls daily from those asking for beds. Hundreds are living on county streets, sleeping in doorways or on steam grates. Nearly 2,000 homeless children attended county schools last year.

Baltimore County conducted the survey Jan. 20, a cold but sunny day. About 50 trained volunteers, along with Bull and her staff, fanned out across the county. They collected information at shelters, the offices of social services, soup kitchens and public libraries. They located wooded encampments and found 314 people who said they were living on the street.

Even in the dead of winter with several temporary shelters available, 14 percent of those surveyed said they had spent the previous night on the street, Bull said.

The county's annual rally for the homeless is set for April 4 in Towson. The event begins with a light dinner at 5:45 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, 120 Allegheny Ave. Participants will march to the County Courthouse in time for the 7 p.m. council meeting, where several speakers plan to address officials on homelessness.

Information: info@bcchcares.org or 410-887-3677.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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