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Published: 11/9/2005

Fulton County: Homeless count grows; shelters full

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

ARCHBOLD - On a warm, sunny day in June this year, 24 people were homeless in Fulton County, based on a count conducted by the Northwest Ohio Housing Coalition.

Sixty-two people were identified as "on the verge" of being homeless, according to the count by the coalition, an association of area social service agencies. The coalition plans to count the number of homeless in the county in January, and it's a good bet that it will be too cold then for people to sleep in their cars or at local campgrounds.

That means the number of homeless likely will be higher.

Fulton County has yet to experience its first snowfall or bitter cold as winter approaches, but area homeless shelters are full, including the Friendship House in Archbold.

For the last two months at the Richland Place/PATH Center in Defiance there's been a waiting list with the names of several families, as well as several single men, on it, said Angie Franklin, community services director at Northwestern Ohio Community Action Commission.

"We've been seeing more, a lot more" homeless people, she said. "We're seeing whole families who are not able to maintain housing." NOCAC's emergency shelter is open to homeless persons and families in Defiance, Fulton, Henry, Paulding, and Williams counties. Last year, the Partnership Assistance to The Homeless served 144 homeless people, including 26 children, for a total of 3,190 nights of shelter, Mrs. Franklin said.

The other homeless shelter in the area, in Bryan, also is full, said Cecily Rohrs, director of the Friendship House, the only homeless shelter in the county.

Efforts are under way to try to set up a homeless shelter for those in the Wauseon school district, but lack of funding has slowed progress. The four-member House of Mentoring board has run into problems "getting any funding," said board member Steve Colon.

Plans called for a house near downtown Wauseon to be opened by this winter. At this point, the board is exploring grant options and is talking to local churches, he said.

The number of homeless people in the county likely is higher than the June count showed.

Because of the stigma attached to being labeled as "homeless," a lot of homeless people won't identify themselves by seeking assistance from shelters, Mrs. Franklin said. Instead, they will sleep in their cars or other places until something forces the issue, such as when it becomes too cold for a tent or a truck bed.

Right now, the PATH Center has someone sleeping in the parking lot at night because "we don't have a bed for him." The man eats meals at the center during the day.

Mrs. Franklin recalled one winter when a homeless man who built an igloo, packing snow tightly around himself, as tem-porary shelter.

With winter approaching and a waiting list that likely will keep getting longer, the PATH Center will send out a representative to meet soon with churches to see which ones might be willing to serve as drop-in centers where homeless people could get a warm meal and a warm cot.

The Friendship House, which opened in 2002 to serve people in the Archbold area, is seeing a demand for services from the "working poor," Mrs. Rohrs said.

With high costs today- for rent, home heating bills, prescription drugs costs, the price at the gas pump - Mrs. Rohrs has concerns about "a whole new generation of homeless," working people who just can't make ends meet.

And as winter approaches, she and others involved with providing services to those in need are "all talking. We're all saying 'What will happen?'‚óŹ" Mrs. Rohrs said.

On Monday, the Northwest Ohio Housing Coalition, which has about 60 members, will hold a meeting with its members to discuss housing and homeless issues, Mrs. Franklin said. Whatever plan is drawn up to address homeless issues, it will take money to make it happen, she said.



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