Harford County officials counted 210 people either living on the streets or in shelters or in another form of transitional housing during this year's count of homeless people in Harford.
The count, done each year in late January, is coordinated by the county's Department of Community Services, and it is designed to assess how many people, at a single point in time, are homeless or receiving services meant for the homeless.
"It is a point-in-time count, but it's comprehensive, in that we gather information from a number of different locations and agencies that provide service to the homeless," county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby explained.
The 2015 count is lower than the prior year, but it is still above the level from two years ago.
Participants counted 223 people homeless during the 2014 survey. The number of homeless in 2013 was 174 people, 216 in 2012, 256 in 2011 and at least 221 in 2010.
Community Services staffers, along with local volunteers, representatives of local organizations that provide services to the homeless and their law enforcement officer escorts spent several hours during the night of Jan. 29 traversing parts of the county to find people who are living on the streets, in their vehicles, shelters, motel rooms and even wooded areas.
"It's a not a simple head count," Mumby continued. "It's an outreach effort to try to help folks who are homeless in Harford County. We are trying, as we meet folks who are homeless, to connect them with services."
Several elected officials, such as Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and County Councilmen Mike Perrone and Chad Shrodes, also participated.
Participants found 90 adults and 56 children in shelters and getting "comprehensive support services," according to a news release issued Monday, as well as 32 adults and 29 children living in motels. Three adults were living outside.
They also provided vouchers to purchase food and pay for bus rides, plus blankets, coats, gloves, hats and personal care items that had been donated, to the people they encountered.
"While there is still much work to be done in Harford County, we are pleased that our homeless numbers showed a decrease from last year, in line with national trends such as those reported by the National Alliance to End Homelessness," Amber Shrodes, Community Services Director, said in a statement.
Eighty-three, or 40 percent, of those counted were children ages 18 and younger, according to a chart provided by the county.
In a recent interview, Glassman noted that Jan. 29 was cold and snowy.
"It was a cold, snowy night, and it gave you an appreciation for what people go through when temperatures are cold," Glassman recalled.
Participants divided into teams, and they canvassed Bel Air, Aberdeen, Edgewood and Havre de Grace between 6 and 9 p.m., according to Mumby.
Glassman was part of a Bel Air group. He said his team checked locations such as Harford Mall and the Bel Air Branch of the Harford County Public Library, where some people were sheltering from the cold.
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"You do start to find some of these folks that are intermingled in warmer places," he said.
The group also visited a county parks and recreation property near the Liriodendron Mansion where a person has been camping. No one was there, but Mumby said county government, health and law enforcement representatives have made several attempts to aid the person.
"We would like to help that person and connect him or her with services and housing referrals, and we'll continue that outreach," she said.
Glassman, who was a state senator before he was elected county executive in 2014 – he is also a former county councilman and state delegate – said that during his time in the legislature, he would often receive a call on a Friday afternoon or evening from a family that had been evicted and could not obtain any temporary assistance because local agencies were closed for the weekend.
He said he wants to work with charitable organizations in the area "to make sure that we have temporary housing vouchers and emergency housing available for those folks," and raise money for a temporary housing fund for such "emergency situations."
Harford County is required by the state to do the homeless count each January. Mumby said the count is connected to grants and support the county receives to provide services to homeless people.
"The goal is to get folks temporary housing and services, to get them back into sustaining themselves and not being homeless," she said.