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Tallying county's homeless


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A homeless population count that will be conducted in Bartholomew and several surrounding counties Wednesday will determine the amount of federal funding counties get for emergency and temporary shelter programs.

Fifty-two homeless people were counted last year in Bartholomew County, according to Sue Lamborn. She’s Human Services Inc.’s director of independent living, overseeing a range of shelter programs in several counties, including

Bartholomew.

The homeless number from January 2012 reflects the number of people using temporary shelters and others who registered at select checkpoints. Officials used to go out into the community late at night and early in the morning to search for homeless people. But beginning last year, officials instead decided to create checkpoints where the homeless can come to receive canned food, toiletries and other needed help.

“Some individuals showed up last year (at count stations), and we could not technically count them,” said Erika Miller, community resource coordinator for United Way 2-1-1. “If they’re couch surfing, or staying with family or friends, they are not actually considered homeless.”

But Miller said the agency is interested in those people this year to get an idea of how severe their situation is.

A homeless person is someone who lacks “a fixed, adequate, regular nighttime residence,” according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A count also showed 52 homeless people in the county in 2011, up from 35 in 2010.

Officials acknowledge that those numbers probably do not show the full number of homeless people.

“There are definitely more homeless people than that out there,” Lamborn said. “But there also is more money than ever before coming in to help them.”

Last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave Bartholomew County $48,000 for shelter assistance. That helps cover operating expenses at places such as Columbus’ Horizon House homeless shelter for families and the Columbus Township trustee’s four, dormitory-style sleeping rooms with shared bathrooms and kitchens.

Besides sleeping rooms, Human Services and the privately funded Love Chapel also temporarily house people at local hotels. In fact, several years ago, before the sleeping rooms became available, agencies spent as much as $85,000 combined annually on hotel lodging.

Human Services also features a range of other federally funded programs, including Emergency Solutions Rapid Rehousing, which received a $395,000 HUD grant a few months ago for Bartholomew, Jennings, Jackson, Johnson, Shelby and Decatur counties.

The program involves intensive case management and follow-up for clients in permanent, subsidized housing. It can assist with deposits, rent and utilities. Individuals must be literally homeless, living in an emergency shelter, or fleeing a domestic-violence situation.

Additionally, Lamborn said local money from sources such as United Way of Bartholomew County and The Heritage Fund: the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County helps substantially.

“The homeless situation has gotten worse because of the economy,” Lamborn said. “But local agencies have pooled our resources to deal with it.”

That includes township trustees and Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown’s advisory councils for safe, available and affordable housing. Those groups, who look into issues such as the need for low-income apartments rely on a cross-section of expertise and ideas from community officials.

Elizabeth Kestler, executive director of Love Chapel, also chairs the mayor’s safe and affordable housing project. She said there are sufficient resources to combat homelessness.

“We have a good system in place,” Kestler said.

She said the only groups without clear housing options include sex offenders, those with arson violations, violent offenders and those actively abusing drugs and alcohol.

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