The number of chronically homeless people in Columbus fell from 2015 to 2016, according to a snapshot count conducted last month by Home for Good: The Alliance to end Homelessness and released on Wednesday.
The survey of shelters, camps and programs that assist the homeless was conducted Jan. 24 and 25, said Pat Frey, executive director of Home for Good.
There were 303 homeless residents — 217 who slept in shelters and another 86 who slept outside. The numbers are reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In January 2015, there were 371 homeless people reported to HUD. Those records show that 206 slept in shelters and 165 slept outside.
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Though not being critical of past courts, Frey said the numbers and names collected this year is the best data that Home for Good has been able to obtain.
“The way the count was done this year was different than it was done in the past,” Frey said.
There were two major differences. The nearly 60 volunteers who conducted the count were did not offer restaurant gift cards in exchange for information and a large homeless shelter that has not been included in previous counts participated.
“We gave them a bag with a granola bar, apple or orange, and a bottle of water,” Frey said. “We did that because we don’t want to financially incentivize someone to keep coming back and to answer the same questions over and over again.”
That produced reduced duplication, Frey said.
“There were dates of births and last names that matched more than one person last year,” she said. “There was no duplication this year.”
Gaining access to all of the homeless shelters will improve the count, Frey said.
“We went into shelters that we have never been into before,” Frey said. “We captured individuals that we had never captured before.”
The collaboration with Columbus Regional Health allowed the volunteers to reach the House of Mercy clients.
“Columbus Regional parked their mobile unit out front and did health screenings,” Frey said. “The collaboration of the community has opened doors that have been closed in the past. It was a win-win.”
There were more than 50 clients of the House of Mercy, a faith-based shelter in the 1500 block of Third Avenue, that were counted for the first time, Frey said.
The volunteers went inside more than a half dozen shelters, including the Salvation Army, Valley Rescue Mission, Damascus Way, House of Time. Valley Interfaith Promise, Grace House and Trinity House.
“In the past, we were on the street in front when the let out at 6 a.m.,” Frey said. “We went in right after they closed the doors and stopped taking people in for the night and had the opportunity to interview everybody that was in each shelter the night of Jan. 24.”
The next morning, volunteers were in the known homeless camps throughout Columbus and also at the established shower programs.
Neil Richardson, executive director of Chattahoochee Valley Jail Ministries, and SafeHouse, a homeless ministry in Rose Hill United Methodist Church, praised the effort coordinated by Home for Good.
“I think for the first time, we have really counted the people and don’t have to make extrapolations,” Richardson said. “We counted individuals and have the data that will allow us to help them. It really felt like this one was personal.”
Home for Good is participating in Zero: 2016, a national pilot program to eliminate chronic homelessness. Armed with HUD housing vouchers, they are able to move homeless residents into housing and provide the services to help address some of the reasons for that person’s plight. Since the fall of 2014, Home for Good has issued 89 vouchers for homeless veterans and 55 for the chronic homeless.
“One of the things that Zero: 2016 has changed we’re not counting up any more, we are counting down,” Frey said. “It is a fluid process so that you are always adding, but if have an average of five veterans or five chronically homeless coming into the system any given month and you are averaging seven placements a month, you have the resources and capabilities to move them through the system.”