If you have no home, then what?

Counties’ survey anticipates little change in homelessness
HUDSON—Homeless people are among us and it’s their time to be counted.

The number of people currently living in places considered not fit for human habitation or nowhere at all is not expected to change compared to last year, according to the woman whose mission is helping the homeless in Columbia County, Columbia Opportunities, Inc., Executive Director Tina Sharpe.

The Columbia Greene Housing Coalition Annual Point in Time Count, which collects information about homeless individuals and families in Columbia and Greene counties took place last Friday, January 31.

Service providers in both counties received survey forms and community volunteers canvassed areas “where individuals who are homeless and without shelter might be found,” according to a Columbia Opportunities, Inc., (COI) press release. The survey asked where people would be sleeping January 31 along with questions about their living situation and demographic information.

Last year’s count identified 112 homeless people, 29 of them children. Most were living in some type of emergency or temporary housing, but four people “did not have any type of shelter” on the last night of January 2013, the release said.

Homeless people may live in cars, barns, campgrounds or may seek shelter in places that are open 24 hours a day, especially in cold weather, Ms. Sharpe said in a phone interview with The Columbia Paper this week.

These places might be a train station, a hospital emergency room or a store open around the clock.

Columbia County has no emergency shelters except for victims of domestic violence, said Ms. Sharpe.

The City of Albany has a mission, but here no church or other organization formally opens its doors to the homeless, she said. But part of the effort to find the homeless also involves reaching out to churches or other places that may provide “informal shelters” to ask them, “Are you leaving your doors unlocked?” Ms. Sharpe said.

“We are not a community with a large number of homeless. Typically only two, three or four really qualify as being unsheltered,” she said. Despite that, Ms. Sharpe said, “When we do not identify many homeless, we are concerned that we are not doing a good job” finding them.

The annual homeless count/survey has been going on since 2005 and helps the Columbia Greene Housing Coalition (CGHC) secure funding to provide housing and services to homeless individuals and families in local communities.

“In all, the coalition’s efforts have resulted in: 37 permanent Supportive Housing Opportunities for individuals and families located throughout Columbia and Greene counties and the implementation of a Homeless Management Information System. The results of this survey will be used to secure ongoing funding to continue these services,” according to the release.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “continuum of care” funding stream pays $400,000 annually directly to contractors such as COI, the Mental Health Association of Columbia and Greene Counties and Twin County Recovery Services to provide permanent supportive housing to homeless people.

Supportive housing refers to the additional services made available because often being homeless is not just a matter of not being able to afford to pay rent. A case worker is assigned to develop a plan that may include mental health services, substance abuse recovery services, domestic violence-related services and/or transportation.

HUD specifically defines a person as homeless if he or she is sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation or in an emergency shelter.

But Ms. Sharpe said her organization sees people with other living arrangements who do not have homes of their own: people who share housing with others, “two families living in a one-bedroom apartment”; people who do not know where they will sleep that night and wander from stays with family, friends or an acquaintance they just met in the lobby of the Department of Social Services (DSS) building. The county DSS provides shelter for homeless people in area motels, but it is usually for a short period of time and rules of compliance that involve actively searching for permanent housing and employment must be adhered to, said Ms. Sharpe.

Whether a homeless person is eligible to live in a subsidized housing project depends on the person’s circumstances, said Ms. Sharpe, noting some projects only allow a single person with a disability or senior citizens.

A family or someone who is not disabled is limited to Hudson Housing Authority or selected Housing Resources properties.
Someone is considered chronically homeless if they have been without regular housing for a year or more or four times in the past three years. Ms. Sharpe said COI aims to break that cycle of someone being housed, then homeless, then housed, through the permanent supportive housing program and since that program’s inception, the number of homeless has come down.

“The wild card is the economy,” said Ms. Sharpe. “Right now in Columbia and Greene counties there is a gap between the experience and qualifications of people looking for work and the jobs that are available,” she said, adding for people with only a high school education there are few job opportunities except in manufacturing or the service industry, many of which are low-paying jobs with limited hours.

Add cold weather to the mix and families and individuals with low incomes are spending a greater percentage of their income on heat. “There is not enough subsidized housing for everyone who would benefit from it,” said Ms. Sharpe.

In her 36+ year career in human services, first with the Columbia County Office for the Aging for 11 years, then with COI for the past 25 years, Ms. Sharpe said one constant remains, “The cost of living keeps going up and benefits and wages do not keep pace.”

Homeless people who want to take part in the annual count/survey may do so through February 14 by calling COI at 518 828-4611. The COI Office is at 501 Columbia Street, Hudson. The information collected is confidential. Individual survey responses will not be disclosed. 
CGHC will only release the results of this survey as aggregate data in late March.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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