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Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Homelessness declines in latest Carroll count

On a blustery January day, about 29 Carroll County residents trekked outdoors to count and survey individuals living in tents, under bridges and on the streets.

Staff and volunteers at shelters and transitional housing facilities also documented their numbers on that day, Jan. 23, and the number that emerged showed homelessness declined nearly 20 percent in Carroll County.

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The number of sheltered and unsheltered individuals decreased from 167 counted in 2012 to 134 counted this year, according to point-in-time summary data.

Each year, Carroll County participates in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's nationwide point-in-time count. Coordinated locally, it documents the number of individuals and families without permanent housing on a single day, according to HUD's website.

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Surveyors went out to 22 locations, not including the shelters. The majority were in Westminster, and four came from spots in other municipalities, including Hampstead, Taneytown and two in South Carroll, according to Pat Goldberg, chair of Carroll County Circle of Caring Homelessness Board, an inter-agency collaborative effort to meet county residents' basic needs.

To further break down the data, surveyors asked the individuals they encountered several specific questions: "Where did you stay last night?," "What is your housing status?," "How long or how often have you been homeless?," and more, Goldberg said.

The numbers were presented at Tuesday's Circle of Caring Homelessness Board meeting, where Goldberg reminded attendees that the count does not necessarily mean this is the total number of homeless individuals in the county.

"Communities make a big effort to gather the information knowing it's going to be incomplete because it's a sample," Goldberg said, "but that doesn't mean it's not valid and not useful."

By the numbers

While this year's point-in-time count shows homelessness has decreased in the county, there are several trends that Circle of Caring Homelessness Board members said piqued their interest.

For example, unsheltered individuals dipped more than 80 percent, from 36 last year to seven this year. Out of the seven - all of whom were adults - four surveyed had a mental health disability and one chronically abused substances and/or alcohol.

Brenda Meadows, chairwoman of the board's outreach committee, wrote in an email that this decrease suggests that systems put in place in the county are functioning as they should be. This includes increased housing, homelessness prevention methods, services, economic security and self-sufficiency; improving health and stability; and retooling the homeless crisis response system, according to Meadows, who is also the executive director of Shepherd's Staff, a faith-based nonprofit.

This year, 127 were living in shelters, which is four less than last year. This number includes emergency shelters, transitional housing and safe haven shelter for mentally ill, homeless adults.

Of the 127 sheltered individuals, 31 were younger than 18, according to the point-in-time data. There were seven, sheltered homeless veterans counted, which is one less than last year.

The Human Services Programs of Carroll County operates six countywide shelters, including the seasonal cold weather shelter, totaling a capacity of about 120 individuals, according to Cindy Parr, HSP's executive director. But the majority of what the organization does is geared toward preventing homelessness, Parr said, so it's satisfying to see this year's number decline.

Chronically homeless individuals was one of the only categories to increase in this year's count. This means that a person has had at least four bouts of homelessness in the last three years or has been without a permanent home for more than a year, according to the county's point-in-time data sheets.

The Circle of Caring Homelessness Board is actively working to prevent this and homelessness in general, according to Meadows. It created a Ten Year Planning Committee - composed of leaders from government agencies, faith-based, commercial and nonprofit communities - several years ago with the purpose of creating and implementing a plan to decrease and eventually eliminate homelessness in the county.

The board creates action plans each fiscal year, making a new set of annual goals, according to Goldberg.

Analysis

The 20 percent decrease in homelessness counted Jan. 23 is likely due to increased housing opportunities, according to Colleen Baumgartner, HSP's budget and grants associate director.

Permanent housing to support typically chronically homeless, disabled individuals and families has increased over the years, she said, through a HUD program. Last year, one additional housing unit was added to total 15 in Carroll County. It was the first time HSP was permitted to apply for a family unit, and it houses seven individuals.

Run through the Carroll County Health Department, the Shelter Plus Care program added two additional housing units since August 2012, according to Neil Brooks, the program's coordinator. It's a state-funded program to help mentally ill, chronically homeless individuals, according to Brooks, that has 13 units in the county. Currently, the program houses two families, and the rest are individuals.

The state did not give the program more money last year. Rather, it was able to add two additional housing units because the portion of the rent the health department paid for the tenants decreased as some have gone back to work and others have received entitlement benefits due to their disabilities, according to Brooks.

Additionally, in 2010, the county received vouchers from HUD to help subsidize housing for 100 non-elderly, disabled individuals. A person pays 30 percent of their income toward rent and utilities, and HUD pays the rest, according to Baumgartner.

This has helped free up space in homeless shelters over the years, allowing more disabled persons to go into permanent housing, she said.

"It truly is a continuum," Baumgartner said. "That was exactly the effect we were hoping it would have."

The Circle of Caring Homelessness Board is looking forward to further analyzing this year's data, Goldberg said.

"I think there's good news here," she said at the board's meeting Tuesday, "and we feel good about that, but, of course, there's always more work to be done."


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