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Posted on Thu. Jun. 26, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Homeless count data encouraging but not complete

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Homeless count

This year’s count on Jan. 29 saw a decrease in homelessness in Allen, Huntington, Whitley and Noble counties. The numbers:

2014…445

2013…535

2012…558

2011…468

Source: Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority

On paper, you might not be able to ask for better numbers:

•A 2 percent decrease in the number of homeless people in Indiana in 2014 compared with last year.

•Going back to 2010, a 6 percent decrease in the number of Hoosiers without homes.

•In Allen, Whitley, Huntington and Noble counties, 90 fewer homeless people in 2014 than in 2013.

All of that is according to the Point-in-Time homeless count, which takes place on a single day every January and provides what state officials call a snapshot of homelessness throughout the state.

But behind the numbers lies reality, according to some who deal with the homeless on a daily basis.

“It’s a little bit of a limited system,” said Richard Cummins, chief development officer at the Rescue Mission in downtown Fort Wayne.

How the Point-in-Time count works is this:

The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority sets a day – this year, it was Jan. 29 – and receives help from several agencies in each county in conducting a head count of the homeless.

The numbers are then tabulated later.

This year’s count found 381 homeless people in Allen County. Statewide, 5,971 people were without a home.

A problem, though, is that it’s difficult to get an accurate head count of the homeless population, especially when so many don’t want to be found.

“We experienced an overflow this winter,” Cummins said of the number of people who walked through the door of the Rescue Mission this year.

“We had 1,275 unique individuals alone come through our doors,” he said of the past year. “That tells you, just taking a snapshot of any given day is not the best (representation).”

In 2013, the Point-in-Time count found 435 homeless people in Allen County, and in 2011 found 384. Numbers for Allen County were not available in 2012 because a new computer system was being used by state officials to compile the data.

But the region that the county is grouped into by the Housing and Community Development Authority saw an increase in homelessness during that year.

The organization touted a 6 percent decrease in total homeless people from 2010 statewide, and it attributed that to statewide initiatives “aimed at combating homelessness.”

“We are committed to not only administering programs for the immediate needs of homeless service providers, but continuing to assess ways to systematically work towards ending homelessness in our state,” Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, who chairs the Housing and Community Development Authority, said in a statement.

Still, there are pockets that such counts don’t see, according to Cummins.

For instance, while he could not provide exact figures, the Rescue Mission had a 14 percent increase in people between ages 18 and 25 coming for help in the past fiscal year.

These people, according to Cummins, usually go from house to house, couch to couch.

But while they have no home of their own, they are not considered homeless in the Point-in-Time count if they have someplace to stay, be it a friend’s or stranger’s home.

“A lot of these folks are not on the radar,” Cummins said. “The Point-in-Time count would be more effective if there was a way to count the folks where they are, whether they’re sleeping in the woods, under bridges or in their cars.”

In the past, area organizations have estimated there are 2,500 homeless people in Allen County. That’s far more than the 600 beds at the Rescue Mission can handle, or any other charity, for that matter, Cummins said.

But the programs set up by the Rescue Mission and other agencies do help, he said. And his organization, in fact, has taken on a bit of a philosophical change, he said.

Wanting to end the “revolving door” of repeat visits at the mission, Cummins said officials are trying to look at all aspects of a person’s life to get them to escape homelessness.

“We really want to take a holistic approach to change their lives,” he said.

jeffwiehe@jg.net


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