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Harford homeless count drops below 200 for second consecutive year

The number of homeless people in Harford County has decreased to below 200 in the past two years, based on the annual nighttime point-in-time count conducted in late January, but services for people in need are still very much in demand, according to advocates for the homeless.

Volunteers, who worked with Harford County government officials, recorded 189 people, who either identified as homeless or were receiving homeless services, during the point-in-time count the night of Jan. 23 and a Project Homeless Connect event the next day at the EPICENTER in Edgewood, according to county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby.

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The total included 152 people in shelters and 37 people not in shelters. Twelve of the 37 unsheltered people were found during the point-in-time count and offered shelter and invited to the Project Homeless Connect event, "however, none were ready to go into shelter at that time," Mumby noted in an email Monday.

Twenty-five more people without shelter were identified during the next day's event, according to Mumby.

Like it or not, Aberdeen Chief of Police Henry Trabert makes a valid point when he says it's not a crime to be homeless. What is a crime is that in this, or in any other country, people can't be promised a roof over their head and three square meals a day.

The total is more than the 179 people identified during the prior year's count on Jan. 27, 2016 – 169 people were sheltered and 10 were unsheltered, according to numbers provided by Mumby.

"We believe the increase in the unsheltered count of those experiencing homelessness is in large part due to the success of Project Homeless Connect," Mumby stated in her email. "This event drew in individuals that we would have never found with just the nighttime count."

The point-in-time count is required by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. About 20 volunteers, working in teams of three to four and accompanied by law enforcement officers, went out around sunset for this year's Harford count.

Project Homeless Connect is a collaboration of the Harford County government and the United Way of Central Maryland.

Mumby said the program "has been a proven success in helping people."

"It provides free services, such as dental care and shelter screening, and draws in individuals who may be reluctant to access mainstream providers otherwise," she stated.

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Attendees at this year's second annual Project Homeless Connect event in Edgewood interacted with representatives of more than 50 local service providers who assist people with medical, dental and vision needs, as well as services such as housing and employment, obtaining identification cards, even getting a haircut, the United Way announced at the time.

Mumby noted the number of people recorded as sheltered this year has dropped from last year – 169 in shelters in 2016 compared to 152 this year – although that is because of a requirement from HUD that county officials not include in the count facilities "that do not require homelessness as the primary criteria for services," such as halfway houses for people recovering from substance abuse.

Some churches are providing a different sort of relief from winter for Harford County's homeless. Fourteen churches throughout Harford County are hosting homeless men and women each night during the winter months through a "rotating shelter" program, in which a different church serves as a shelter each week

She said Winter Storm Jonas, which dropped more than 30 inches of snow on the area late last January, could have also affected last year's count, as more people were seeking shelter from the snowy and frigid weather.

The Harford County Hope for the Homeless Alliance restarted its rotating shelter program this winter to provide more options to homeless people who were seeking shelter from the weather, but could not get into the 33-bed Welcome One Emergency Shelter in Belcamp.

Welcome One, operated by Faith Communities and Civic Agencies United, is "the only full-service emergency homeless shelter in Harford County," according to its website.

There are 14 Harford County churches involved in the rotating shelter program. A different church hosts the shelter each week, and volunteers provide meals, entertainment, cots and bedding and fellowship.

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Organizers have tried to limit the number of people in a shelter to 15 to 20, depending on each church's capacity, but the number of guests per night has nearly doubled as the program continues.

Thirty-nine people were on the roster for shelter Monday night at Centre United Methodist Church in Forest Hill, the designated shelter for this week and next week, according to Howard Magness, a member of the rotating shelter steering committee.

"There seems to be more of a demand as we get into the winter itself," Magness said.

He said Centre United Methodist volunteered to take on the shelter this week and next week, as this week's designated host, the Fruitful Living Christian Center Church in Edgewood, does not have the capacity to help nearly 40 people.

Volunteers from Fruitful Living are, however, scheduled to help out at the Forest Hill church shelter.

"The churches have really been working together to address the problem," Magness said.

The winter weather, which has fluctuated between frigid and mild, has been a factor in the increased attendance, as well as word getting out about the rotating shelter program.

"I think people are becoming more aware of it, and they're hearing good things about it," Magness said.



Harford County’s “Choose Civility” campaign kicked off with a breakfast event at the Water’s Edge Events Center in Belcamp on Wednesday.
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