It’s winter in Akron. And as most know, it can be brutal, mild, as in 2012, or somewhere in between. But regardless of the temperature, there are people who scramble daily for a place to put their head down come nightfall. And hopefully indoors.
During the last 10 days of January, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requests Continuum of Care (COC) partners in cities and towns across the nation to conduct its National Street and Shelter Point-in-Time Count.
The Count gives COC members and volunteers an opportunity to gather data directly from the homeless — both sheltered and unsheltered — during a 24-hour period. HUD uses these figures for Congress to get a grasp on the extent of homelessness across the country. Additionally, it supplies Count totals to funding resources that can help communities address and reduce homelessness.
The Akron/Barberton/Summit County Continuum of Care for the Homeless will conduct its Point-in-Time Count tomorrow, Jan. 22, at various shelters and locations across the county, such as the main library and Metro Transit Station, as well as actively seek out those living on the streets.
According to www.hud.gov, the total number of homeless counted in Ohio for 2012 was 13,977, which includes 1,788 who were chronically homeless and 1,244 of whom were veterans.
Sue Pierson, vice president of services of InfoLine, says the Count is a “competitive process across the country.” She dispels a myth surrounding the homeless.
“Typically, you think of homeless folks as older men with either a drug or alcohol problem,” she says. “But that’s changed. Yes, this demographic is a big part of the homeless population. But we’re now seeing families and single moms with kids.”
In the past, the Counts have brought about $4 million to community to shelters and support services, Pierson says. Though HUD would naturally like to see Summit County — as well as the rest of the country, lessen its homeless population, there’s a reason why numbers of homeless in the Akron area may seem high or swell at times.
“We have an amazing network of homeless services, and we’re very proud of what we do in Summit County,” Pierson acknowledges. “There are 800 beds, and they’re filled all the time but not necessarily with residents.”
Winter is an ideal time for the Count because it first gathers occupancy totals at shelters, where many homeless seek cover, before the Count continues on the streets. Volunteers for the Count undergo a training session before heading out to the streets, and the police and sheriffs’ departments will work in tandem with their efforts.
Some of the information collected from the homeless includes their age, race, gender, number of children, disabilities and whether they are a male or female veteran, and, if not in a shelter, the location where they were found.
“When we do the counts, we actually engage them in conversation,” Pierson says. “If they’re asleep, we don’t wake them but we gently offer them blankets, hoodies, gloves, socks …”
If a counter suspects any violence or instability from a homeless individual, they are asked to jot down a physical description so as not to again approach or duplicate that particular count, Pierson says.
Signage also has been distributed directing the homeless to various agencies where they may stop in on their own to be counted.
Additional information may be found at HUD’s Homelessness Resource Exchange at www.hudhre.info. Akron’s Count headquarters is at InfoLine, 703 S. Main Street, Suite 211 — (330) 315-1376.