Volunteers search across city during annual homeless count

Family House is Toledo's largest family homeless shelter.
Family House is Toledo's largest family homeless shelter.

Equipped with flashlights, maps, and brown bags stuffed with peanut butter sandwiches, dozens of volunteers scoured Lucas County during the day and night Wednesday to count the number of homeless individuals.

The annual count, required by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is critical to funding local homeless services.

The count is a snapshot of “who is experiencing homelessness, where are they experiencing homelessness, and why are they experiencing homelessness,” said Deb Conklin, executive director of the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board. “HUD requires us once a year to get out there and answer those questions.”

In the early morning hours just after midnight, volunteers began scouring streets, abandoned buildings, wooded areas, parks, parking lots, and areas near the Maumee River seeking out people without a safe home.

One man, whom volunteers found walking along Main Street in East Toledo, said he has lived on the streets about six years. He stays in an abandoned house nearby sometimes, he said.

“I’ll be out here all night,” he told volunteers who offered him food and information about shelters and other services.

The count also includes people sleeping in shelters and eating at meal sites such as the MLK Kitchen for the Poor, St. Paul's Community Center, and numerous other agencies.

The number of people found had not been calculated by late Wednesday, but last year’s total was 1,009 individuals. Of those, 137 were without shelter; the rest were in emergency shelters or transitional housing.

The number of homeless people counted has hovered between 900 and 1,000 people annually for the last several years. About 20 percent of them experience mental illness, about 25 percent have substance abuse issues, and about 7 percent are veterans, according to statistics compiled from previous years by the homelessness board. About two-thirds of those individuals do not have children; about one-third are families with children.

Across the state, 13,977 people were counted during the 2012 count, according to Douglas Argue, managing director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio.

The majority of those individuals were in shelters; 1,731 people were unsheltered.

Not every city conducts its count on the same day; HUD mandates the count take place every year at some point in the last seven days in January.

Volunteers involved in the 24-hour count Wednesday came from the city’s Department of Neighborhoods and more than a dozen area social service agencies. This is the first year the Department of Neighborhoods has been involved.

“The Department of Neighborhoods has to take an active role ... in order to understand this issue and do a good job in allocating the limited resources we have,” said Lourdes Santiago, the department's director, referring to the city’s role in allocating federal funds to different homelessness agencies, a process that was mired in controversy last year.

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.com 419-724-6091, or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.