Thursday, January 21, 2010

Expert couple to help count homeless

When volunteers search libraries, shelters and dark corners day and night Tuesday for Summit County's annual homeless count, among them will be two experts.

A man and woman who asked to be identified only by their initials, A.T. and Miss B., are among the homeless themselves, and will aid in the effort.

Both said they have been living under a bridge near downtown for a year.

Miss B., 50, said she has had no home for six years. A.T. said they have to watch their step under the bridge, and make sure no one has taken their spots. Police often check to make sure they are all right.

''When you are out there, you have to watch each and every corner,'' said 59-year-old A.T. ''You have to watch yourself.''

They will help in the national Point-in-Time Homeless Count.

Last year, when about 30 volunteers went to the streets, the temperature rose no higher than the low 20s, dipped into the teens during the night, and the area was bracing for a large winter storm.

Nearly 800 were counted, with 659 in shelters and another 129 tucked away in cars, parking decks, under bridges and elsewhere.

Also on the search list this year are the new Metro Transit Center and locations that provide free meals.

Volunteers such as Miss B. and A.T. help identify locations where the homeless may have found protection. Census takers don't ask for names.

The number is a factor in how much federal money the county will receive to serve the homeless, said Susan R. Pierson, chair of the Akron Summit Barberton Continuum of Care for the Homeless, a group of about two-dozen agencies and 40 programs providing shelter and services for the homeless.

Pierson, vice president of services for InfoLine, said about $3.3 million in U.S. Housing and Urban Development money comes to Summit County yearly, and the count is a factor.

She said that while the census last year found about 800, experts believe the number to be closer to 1,200.

Tom Baker, co-chair of the Point-in-Time Count, said he believes the number is increasing.

Baker, supervisor in the homeless outreach for Community Support Services, an agency that serves people with mental-health issues, said that as the local economy worsens and families lose jobs and homes, some are joining the ranks of the homeless.

He said he recently received a call from a woman whose husband had suffered a stroke and no longer could work. The family was being evicted from its apartment, and he had not received approval to receive disability payments.

The couple had never needed social service agencies for help and ''they just don't know what to do. . . . We are getting calls from people who have never been homeless before.''

''I'm just one agency that gets called,'' he said.

Pam O'Neill, of Akron, who has volunteered for 22 years with the St. Bernard Catholic Church sack lunch program in downtown Akron, said the number of low-income and homeless people receiving a lunch has increased in recent years.

The group serves about 125 people daily.

''I think it has grown and I think they are more open to letting us know they are homeless,'' she said.

''These people have become my friends,'' she said. ''They need to know there are people out here that care what happens to them.''

She said they talk about their tents and other items they need to live outdoors.

Pierson said there are about 955 beds for the homeless throughout Summit, but the county needs about 300 more permanent supportive housing units to care for all of the homeless.

She said she hopes that perhaps 10 to 20 new beds can be added each year to help solve the problem and has set a goal of creating 178 more beds over the next 10 years.

A.T. said the problems facing the homeless are tremendous.

''You don't sleep good at night because the first thing that is on your mind is, 'What am I going to do in the morning?' '' he said.

The truth, he said, is it is not an easy life.

''There is no comfort zone,'' he said.

For more information on the homeless in Summit County, go to the Web site of the Homeless Information Management System at

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