Task force to survey homeless shelters

The Jackson County Homeless Task Force will spend tonight surveying homeless shelters to determine who's using them and whether there are enough support systems in place to help those who are living with the least.

The single-page questionnaire will be given at various county and faith-based shelters, including St. Vincent de Paul, the Gospel Mission and other facilities that provide services to the homeless such as the Jackson County Jail, said Ed Angeletti, planning director for ACCESS Inc.

"The purpose of the survey is to gather data and help find creative solutions to try and solve the problem of homelessness," Angeletti said.

Tonight's information will be given to the state. The survey, while not intended to provide an accurate count of the number of homeless in the region, will be a valuable tool for providing needs assessment, he said.

"We are very limited in our ability to access people on the street," said Angeletti. "The survey gives us a valuable perspective. We can't get everyone to participate. But we do try."

In 2008, 488 people were surveyed in Jackson County on Jan. 31. Results showed 49 percent of respondents had been continuously homeless for a year or more, or had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years. Fifty-eight percent were single adults, 18 years old or older. Seventy-eight percent were white, and 9 percent were Hispanic or Latino. The gender split was 56 percent male and 44 percent female.

Recessions hit poor households significantly harder than others. Increasing numbers of unemployed people are unable to afford rent, and charities and local governments are unable to keep up.

Projections indicate that if the current recession unfolds as expected, the number of people in deep poverty will increase by approximately 5.4 million.

A recent report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness states the nation's economic recession and mortgage crisis may push up to 1.5 million more Americans into homelessness over the next two years.

For most Americans who become homeless, the reasons relate to short-term economics. Sudden and/or sustained unemployment leaves them unable to afford rent, and those who lack adequate support systems lose their housing. This belies the stereotype of a homeless person who struggles with severe disabilities, sleeps outdoors, is completely disconnected from the job market and remains homeless for long periods of time, states the National Alliance report.

"There's a misconception that the face of homelessness is a guy standing on the street asking for money," said Angeletti.

The homeless survey is being conducted in accordance with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Angeletti.

HUD's definition of homelessness requires that a person reside in places not meant for human habitation such as cars, parks and sidewalks; live in an emergency shelter or transitional housing; is facing eviction within a week from a private dwelling with no subsequent residence identified; is being discharged within a week from an institution such as a mental health or substance abuse treatment facility; or is fleeing domestic violence without housing or social support.

Those living with friends or relatives, staying in a motel or a board-and-care facility, or being discharged from an institution that is required to provide housing upon release do not qualify.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness is calling for a $2 billion increase as part of an economic stimulus bill for 2009 to provide for homelessness prevention and rapid rehousing.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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