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Annual Point-In-Time Homeless Count In Columbus

Holy Family Soup Kitchen

The Community Shelter Board today conducted its annual homeless count in Columbus and Franklin County. Single-day counts take place across the country in late January to comply with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s funding requirements. Results won’t be finalized for a couple months, but CSB officials expect another increase. Mike Foley reports.

Point-in-time counts of the homeless in Columbus and Franklin County have increased every year since 2008, and Community Shelter Board officials expect the trend to continue in the latest assessment. More than 17-hundred people were counted in the last year. The CSB tracks people in shelters leading up to the official count, while street outreach teams canvass the community and encampments during the early morning hours.

“Anybody that needs a blanket, meet me at the….”

Volunteers also perform counts at soup kitchens, like this one. It’s another busy day at Holy Family on South Grubb Street. As people grab a meal, they also receive assistance filling out a survey. The CSB’s Sara Loken says the annual count also provides intervention opportunities. Loken picks up the story of a woman at a camp with a serious back injury. 

“She has never received any disability income or social security income. So we were able to have Stephanie and the street outreach team spend just a couple minutes talking with that woman about what her options might be and to make a plan to see if she can get registered for disability income and then also to find out what housing she might be eligible for. Stephanie is making note of this particular camp, her name and her particular issues. Stephanie is going back out to the camps five days a week from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. so she’s going to target that spot for her rounds in the coming days to see if she can reconnect with that woman and get her some help.”

Loken says in addition to the single day count, other data indicates a rise in homelessness. Poverty rates and eviction notices are increasing in central Ohio. In the past five years, she says shelters have served 64 percent more families and 14 percent more single men and women. Last year, Columbus shelters served more than 10,000 people.

“My name is Raymond Page, I’m 56 years old, everybody call me Jack. People who’ve never been homeless need to come around places like this and see all the people that’s around – black, white, Hispanic, foreigners, babies, children, teenagers. One woman told me she became homeless because the places she was staying had bed bugs, roach-infested and the landlord wouldn’t do anything about it. But all people that are homeless aren’t messed up, everybody’s situation is different.”

As for how to help the homeless, Loken says it really comes down to a resource issue.

“We know how to do help someone get back on the road to self-sufficiency. We know that housing is the solution to homelessness. We know that people need support to get the job training, to get the medical care that might be keeping them from work. We know that people need an advocate when they go try to find a landlord that’s willing to rent to them if they have bad credit. We have interventions that work to get people back on their feet, back into an apartment and then even aftercare to make sure people remain stable for 30, 60, 90 days once they are on their own. Providing that aftercare has reduced returns to shelter, pretty dramatically. So, we know what works, it’s just about having enough resources to provide those services that work to everyone that is in need. The need outstrips the resources.”

CSB staff will verify the data and eliminate any duplication in the numbers before coming up with a firm count in April. The CSB also awaits results from data collected by the Massachusetts-based Center for Social Innovation, which explored the connection between racism and homelessness in Columbus and nine other cities. Loken says she expects the CSB to have those results sometime this spring, with a strategy to come based on that data.  

Mike Foley joined WCBE in February 2000, coming from WUFT in Gainesville, Florida. Foley has worked in various roles, from producing news and feature stories to engineering Live From Studio A sessions. A series of music features Foley started in 2018 called Music Journeys has grown into a podcast and radio show. He also assists in developing other programs in WCBE's Podcast Experience. Foley hosts The Morning Mix, a weekday music show featuring emerging and established musicians, our Columbus-area and Ohio-based talent, and additional artists that inspire him.
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