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'Is Anybody Home?' Trying To Count The Homeless

January 31, 2007
By REGINE LABOSSIERE, Courant Staff Writer

In below-freezing weather Tuesday night, two Manchester police officers and two members from social service agencies scoured a section of town looking for homeless people.

Looking at a red dress, two pairs of women's shoes and a toy on the ground, slightly covered by leaves, Diane Wicks said, "It's kind of scary to think a mom and child might be living out here, but they're not anymore, obviously."

Wicks, case management supervisor of the town's senior, adult and families services, and her group were in a wooded area near downtown.

Then, about 20 feet away, the group made a discovery.

Beth Stafford, executive director of Manchester Area Conference of Churches, spotted a tent staked into the ground.

"Hello! Is anybody home?" she shouted. "Hello?"

Officers Matt Pace and Dave Evans unzipped the tent to find no one there but plenty of evidence that at least one person had been spending time there: a large bed with several blankets and pillows, a foam ice cooler, a backpack and some food.

The group was among four groups canvassing Manchester. They met earlier in the evening at MACC's office and emergency shelter before taking part in the first statewide effort to count the number of homeless people in the state.

The point-in-time count involved more than a dozen communities - including West Hartford, Manchester and Hartford - over a 12-hour period Tuesday and today. The counts were to take place in emergency shelters and emergency hospital rooms, the streets, abandoned buildings and the woods, officials said.

Most communities, such as Manchester, conducted their surveys from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday; others conducted their surveys for two hours early this morning.

The point-in-time count is also part of a national effort. In order for communities to receive federal funding to help combat homelessness, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development requires communities each year to survey the number of homeless living in their areas. Connecticut is one of a few that conducted a statewide uniform survey, officials said.

The Manchester group didn't find any homeless during the two-hour search of its designated area - neighborhoods east and west of downtown Main Street. But when Stafford returned to the MACC shelter, she learned that there were 24 people staying there for the night.

The state's point-in-time count is organized by the Reaching Home Campaign, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness and the Corporation for Supportive Housing. The count is funded by several state agencies.

According to the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, state shelters served almost 15,000 people in 2005 and thousands more were living on the street. The Manchester area Continuum of Care found that there were 198 homeless people in Manchester last year.

At a press conference at the Legislative Office Building earlier Tuesday, Dennis Culhane, professor of social welfare policy at the University of Pennsylvania who is leading the research team, discussed the goals of the survey. He said the survey would help the state gauge its progress in combating homelessness, fulfill its HUD requirements and obtain federal funds for permanent housing for homeless people.

Culhane said recent research has shown that providing supportive housing for the homeless is less costly to taxpayers than "street homelessness" because of the money spent on hospital stays and jail time.

Supportive housing is permanent, affordable and independent housing. There are about 35 cities and towns in the state that have more than 3,000 units total of supportive housing. Reaching Home, one of the organizers of the count, has a campaign to create another 7,000 units of such housing in the state by 2014.

Culhane said the final survey results should be ready in a few months.

The point-in-time count will factor into communities' plans to try to end homelessness in 10 years. About 10 communities, including Hartford and Bridgeport, began implementing their 10-year plans a couple of years ago.

On Tuesday in Middletown, a coalition of business leaders, clergy and elected officials from the region announced their intention for such a 10-year plan in Middlesex County.

The Windham area recently had a kick-off for its 10-year plan, said Cathy Cementina, director of housing services at Windham Regional Community Council and co-chair of Continuum of Care of Windham and Tolland Counties. She said the local continuum has found an average of 100 homeless people in the area during its own counts in the past several years.

Cementina said Tuesday's count "is the kind of data we need. ... This is going to be a godsend in terms of giving us concrete and objective data in terms of what we're dealing with."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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