Annual count shows drop in number of Rowan homeless

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
An annual “Point in Time” count of a five-county area showed fewer homeless people in Rowan County this year than last.
Rowan was the only county in the Piedmont Regional Continuum of Care to show a decrease, according to the results of the Jan. 28 count. The continuum also includes Cabarrus, Davidson, Stanly and Union counties.
The count for Rowan was 93, down from 148 last year, which was also down from 220 the previous year. The count for 2006 was 125, and the count for 2005 was 58.
This year, Davidson had the highest count with 201, followed by Cabarrus with 130, Rowan’s 93, Union with 89 and Stanly with 54. Rowan County had the highest count in 2008, 2007 and 2006.
Overall, the 2009 count for the five-county area was 567, up almost 35 percent from 419 in 2008. Of the 567, 455 were adults and 112 were children.
Jim Curtin, chairman of the Piedmont Regional Continuum of Care Committee, attributed the increase to the recession.
“I think that’s had a very negative effect,” he said. “I know there are a lot of people who have gotten laid off. There are a lot of people who have lost their homes to foreclosure.
“More than likely, there are also a lot of people who have been evicted from where they were staying.”
Curtin said the numbers on the annual “Point in Time” count, which is held nationwide, probably reflect the sheltered homeless.
“It’s hard to find the unsheltered folks,” he said. “That’s always a challenge every year because of the fact that a lot of them are scattered around, and a lot of them don’t want to be found.”
Homeless people sometimes sleep in abandoned houses or cars in areas where they won’t be found and forced to move, he said, or they may pitch a tent in an isolated area for the same reason.
As a result, Curtin said the county totals in the Point in Time count may represent only a fraction of the total number of homeless people. “I don’t think we have the manpower at this point or the ability to really find out where everybody is staying in our five counties,” he said.
The Piedmont Regional Continuum of Care Committee uses the figures in applying for grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In order to even apply for funding, Curtin said there has to be a continuum committee in place.
Continuum committees apply to HUD for new or continued housing programs based on several factors, including the homeless count. Curtin said the Piedmont Regional Continuum of Care Committee accepts proposals for programs from agencies within the five-county area.
“We’ll look at those proposals on a local level here,” he said, “and we’ll try to reflect those that fit in with what HUD’s priorities are so they’ll score the best.”
Curtin said Rowan’s homeless count will probably not hurt the county’s chance of receiving funding. HUD “will probably be inclined to look at the overall picture of the five counties,” he said.
Kenyatta Wheeler of Community Link in Concord collected the data for the Point in Time count for the 24-hour period beginning at 8 a.m. on Jan. 28 and ending at 8 a.m. on the 29th.
Wheeler said the count is taken by volunteers. “Even though we provide the training and tell them where to go,” she said, “we can’t make them participate.
“We had a good number of volunteers show up for the Rowan County training, but not all of them reported data.”
Tracy Asbury-Thomas, overnight shelter manager for Rowan Helping Ministries, was the coordinator for Rowan’s Point in Time homeless count. She said 14 volunteers showed up for the two-hour training held at the Hefner VA Medical Center on Jan. 15.
Agencies represented included the Arc/Rowan, Rowan Public Library, the Rowan County Department of Social Services and the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.
The count was the second time Rowan County’s reported total has been below 100. The first time was in 2005.
“I attribute it to the transient nature of the population,” she said, adding that some people may have moved out of the county to be closer to family support systems.
Asbury-Thomas said the veteran homeless count, in particular, is very transient. Some of the veterans who come to Rowan for treatment at the Hefner VA Medical Center may have a permanent residence in another county, she said, but are referred to Rowan Helping Ministries’ homeless shelter while they’re in Salisbury seeking and receiving medical care.
Rowan’s count of 93 included only one family, and the number of children in the family was four. Thirty-five were in the homeless shelter.
Subpopulations included in the count are as follows: chronic homeless, 20; seriously mentally ill, 13; diagnosable substance abuse disorder, three; and veterans, 14.
Also included in the count were five people who had been discharged from prisons/jails within 30 days of the count; 14 who had been discharged from mental health hospitals or substance abuse treatment programs within 30 days; and two who had been discharged from hospitals within 30 days.
Asbury-Thomas also said not all of the volunteers who trained to help with the county reported data. There was no data reported, for example, from the southern or eastern parts of the county.
Though the annual count provides information about the homeless population in Rowan, she said it’s very difficult to get an accurate count because of all the variables involved. “It really depends on the weather, the day, what services the homeless access on that particular day.”
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.