Community groups conduct homeless population count
HUNTINGTON — Annually in West Virginia, members of the National Coalition for the Homeless gather to remember homeless people or formerly homeless people who have died that year.
In 2018, 70 names were read aloud during a memorial ceremony in Charleston. Of those names, 34 were from Cabell County, an average of 2.8 deaths per month from reported natural causes, overdoses or other medical reasons.
That’s why it’s important for community organizers, social workers, volunteers and mental health providers to meet members of the county’s homeless population and offer help before life-threatening situations occur,
said Corey Clark, team lead of Targeted Rapid Rehousing at Harmony House, a nonprofit seeking to end homelessness in Huntington.
A group of 45 to 50 community partners in Cabell and Wayne counties on Wednesday conducted an annual “Point-in-Time” count, which is a census of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people during a single night in January.
Results of the count are reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which prioritizes funding for programs including emergency shelters, transitional housing, rapid rehousing and permanent housing.
Community partners went to several places where the homeless are known to congregate, including abandoned buildings and by riverbanks. Clark’s group went along the riverbank in Huntington, meeting about five people and observing a few camps, he said.
Clark said on a local level, the point-in-time count helps community groups get to know the homeless population and then refer them to services.
“Down here on the river where we are walking, we are making notes where there are some sites you can tell have been inactive for a really long time, but some of them look pretty active now,” he said.
Members of Prestera Center’s Projects for Assistance in Transitioning Homeless (PATH) will follow up on active camps to meet with homeless people and get them help, he said.
Clark said the homeless population on average in the area tends to be predominantly white, mostly male and above the age of 35. When conducting the count last year, they learned there is a significant number of homeless people above the age of 55.
The Harmony House then started the Targeted Rapid Rehousing program, which places seniors into housing in less than 19 days on average. That program has helped 18 seniors find housing since it was unrolled in August, Clark said.
“There were a lot of seniors who were first-time homeless,” he said. “Some were just homeless because their spouse had passed away.”
Homelessness also affects the veteran population in Huntington, said Lucia Hayden, a social worker with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Community Resource and Referral Centers Homeless Outreach.
Hayden said the veterans who are health care eligible are referred to services at the Homeless Veterans Resource Center, which offers a shower, a food pantry and other support. Veterans who are not eligible are referred to various community groups and programs.
“We offer a housing-first model,” Hayden said. “The idea with housing-first is to be able to establish a rapport and talk about what their needs may be and alleviate future homelessness.”
A final report on homelessness in the area will be released in the spring by the U.S. HUD. During the 2018 point-in-time count, there were 190 homeless people counted in Cabell and Wayne counties, 21 of which were not living in shelters or transitional housing. In 2017, there were 205 homeless people counted and 32 were not living in a shelter.
Travis Crum Is a reporter with The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.