Baltimore County's homeless count jumped by nearly 25 percent in the past year, according to the county's annual survey of those living without a permanent home. More than a third of the 890 people counted said they were homeless for the first time.
"Unemployment and eviction numbers are high and are contributing to the increases," said Sue Bull, the county's homeless coordinator. "Evictions are up by 21 percent, and loss of job contributed in 23 percent of those surveyed."
County administrators and 65 volunteers conducted the annual "point-in-time" survey Jan. 28.
They traveled the county to check shelters, libraries, soup kitchens and bus stops. They found homeless encampments, people living in their vehicles and 272 children living in shelters or "doubled up and couch-surfing" with family or friends, Bull said.
But she knows they could not have counted everyone. Last year, the county served 5,000 residents in its various programs to assist the homeless, including 1,400 children, about 300 of whom lived in county shelters at some point last year.
"With more volunteers focused on the streets, we were able cover more ground," Bull said. "But still this is like looking for a needle in a haystack. We can't get to everybody."
The data they gathered will be critical to securing money from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for transitional housing programs, outreach centers, havens from domestic violence, and shelters for families and singles.
The volunteers, who promised anonymity to those surveyed, asked 15 basic questions, including how respondents became homeless, where they had slept the night before and whether they had any source of income. Of those who answered, 242 slept in a county shelter and 121 slept in a car, on the street or in the woods. More than 80 respondents said they were employed, but 340 said they had no means of support.
Volunteers found 60 military veterans among the homeless. Men outnumbered women by 12 percent, and whites outnumbered blacks by 5 percent. Adults in the age group 31 to 50 made up the largest segment - 44 percent - in the survey.
Geographically, more homeless people lived in the eastern section of the county, with 36 percent in Dundalk and Essex. The volunteers found several homeless encampments in Rosedale.
Bull said people gravitate to areas where they can get help.
"There are more shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries and outreach centers in the eastern area," Bull said. "And 22 churches there offer daily meals."
The homeless and the advocates who serve them have scheduled their annual rally for 5 p.m. Monday at Trinity Episcopal Church, 120 Allegheny Ave., in Towson. The event, which is open to the public, is intended to raise awareness of the plight of the homeless.
The evening includes a meal, counseling on housing issues and testimony from those who are working to overcome homelessness. After the rally, participants plan a candlelight march to the County Council meeting, where they will lobby for continued funding for homeless programs.