The Community Shelter Board conducted Columbus and Franklin County's annual point-in-time count of the region's homeless population.
About 130 volunteers today helped the CSB track the number of people in shelters, on the streets or in encampments, and folks using soup kitchen and feeding sites. CSB staff will spend the next couple months verifying the data and removing any duplication before announcing an official count in April. More than 1,900 people were counted last year. CSB spokesperson Sara Loken expects that number to grow by 150 every year, just due to the region's population growth. Loken remains concerned about the continuing gap between what people who have a job are making per hour and what it costs to rent a safe, decent apartment.
"Those are serious issues that we see movement on throughout the community, but in the meantime we have more and more people who are homeless and getting stuck in shelter," Loken said. "We know how to operate as an emergency room and keep someone safe and do that quick assessment of how can we help you. But when the help that they need is a higher paying job or an apartment they can actually afford, those are few and far between in our community. So we're seeing longer lengths of stay in shelter, particularly among families. We need more resources to do more prevention to keep people from coming into shelter altogether. Then we also need more resources to do rapid rehousing so that if someone does end up in a shelter, we can more quickly help them get out because at the end of the day we're spending the money anyway to shelter them. We would rather invest in more prevention and more rapid rehousing and have fewer people in shelter and much shorter lengths of stay in shelter."
Loken said advocates are also seeing and hearing about more homelessness further out from Columbus, so teams this year have spread out to reach suburban areas and people who may be sleeping in cars. 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 and to better understand the scope of homelessness.