No place to call home
Local officials are examining what they say is an epidemic problem, leaving families without shelter at the coldest time of the year.
Solving the homelessness crisis in the United States, however, is not an easy task, advocates say.
“I don’t believe there is anyway to put a timeline on this problem,” said Patti Morrow, a housing specialist for Fairfield County 2-1-1, a local information and referral agency. “It has existed forever. It is growing as the foreclosure crisis grows, as the unemployment rate grows, as programs cease to exist, and as the economy worsens.”
There is no way to count the exact number of people who are homeless in any one city or village, officials say. However, once a year, across the country, a Point in Time (PIT) count is held on the same day in January to count the approximate number of homeless people in each county.
In Fairfield County, this event is organized by the Lutheran Social Services (LSS), which also manages the Emergency Shelter for Homeless Adults.
In 2010, 287 individuals were counted as homeless in Fairfield County and 1,387 were counted as homeless in Franklin County, according to the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio.
“There are still some people in Fairfield County who doubt that there are any homeless people here because they don’t see them,” Morrow said.
A majority of the people counted as homeless in 2010 were considered to be “sheltered homeless.”
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines a person as homeless only when he resides in one of the following places:
• a place not meant for human habitation, such as cars, parks, sidewalks, or abandoned buildings
• an emergency shelter
• a transitional or supportive housing for homeless
• is being evicted within a week from a private dwelling unit and no subsequent residence has been identified
• is being discharged within a week from an institution, such as a mental health or substance abuse facility or a jail/prison, in which the person has been a resident for more than 30 consecutive days and no subsequent residence has been identified.
A person is also considered homeless if she is fleeing a domestic abuse situation and no subsequent residence has been identified.
There are also countless others who are homeless; either doubled up with family or friends or “couch surfing” (moving from place to place night by night), Morrow said. These are the people not counted because they do not meet the HUD definition of homelessness.
Pickerington City Manager Bill Vance says he has not seen any homeless since his arrival in July. However, Vance says he knows it’s a wide-spread issue that all communities must address.
“I think for society in general, homelessness is a very important issue,” he said.
Reynoldsburg officials said they do not know of any homeless issues as well.
“I can state that I am unaware of homelessness issues in the city,” said Lucas Haire, development director with the city. “There are no known homeless encampments in the city and I have received no reports of known homeless people in Reynoldsburg.”
However, Morrow said it’s not unusual for homeless to stay off the radar, either by staying with friends or taking advantage of community programs.
Morrow spoke with Pickerington City Council members during a work session in early November to try and raise awareness about homelessness in Pickerington.
She publicized a document called “Project Housecall,” which lists current rental listings, apartment communities, housing programs, shelter information and internet resources.
“I wanted to get this information to the residents of Pickerington because I was worried that we might not be reaching some folks who could benefit from this information,” Morrow said.
Fairfield County has an active housing coalition that meets monthly for the purpose of collaborating, identifying housing needs and developing solutions to housing instability. The coalition has more then 40 members representing 28 organizations and agencies.
Fairfield County 2-1-1 and the Fairfield Community Action Agency are two resources someone can contact if he is homeless or on the verge of being homeless.
“When we work with people, a lot of our programs are to keep people from getting homeless,” said Donna Fox-Moore, director of housing for the Lancaster-Fairfield Community Action Agency. “We have seen a dramatic increase of clients since the economic downturn.”
The Community Action Agency offers rental and utility assistance, along with holiday assistance.
The agency already has processed applications to qualify 511 adults and 644 children to receive food and gifts. The CAA also coordinates with others in the community, such as Amvets and Victory Hill Church, to help avoid duplication of holiday assistance efforts.
Fox-Moore said the Social Services department collaborates with a number of community partners in providing holiday assistance.
A number of private donors, local businesses and churches provide the donations to assist families during the holiday and request the agency’s assistance in identifying households in need. Among them are the First Presbyterian Church, City of Lancaster Street Department, La Sertoma, Dr. Garry Boyd’s office and Fairfield National bank.
“The homeless are our neighbors. Tomorrow it could be us,” Morrow said. We walk by these folks everyday. We just don’t see them. There are things we can do to help, but we don’t.”
Where to get help
Lancaster-Fairfield Community Action Agency
Fairfield County 2-1-1
2-1-1 or (740) 687-0500
Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio
National Resource Directory