Friday, November 12, 1999

Counting homeless is beyond numbers

Teams seek statistics and bring assistance

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        While most Butler County residents are snug in their beds tonight, a group of volunteers will be peering into alleys and vacant buildings, under bridges and in trash bins, looking for homeless people.

        They won't go in empty-handed, nor will they leave that way. Volunteer teams, led by the Butler County Coalition for the Homeless, will arrive with blankets and food to let those they find know they count.

        And they will leave with statistics that will be used to help local communities seek state and federal grants to help the homeless with such needs as housing and job training.

        The coalition's countywide count, which begins today in Hamilton and Middletown, also will lay the groundwork and help train volunteers to do another, more comprehensive homeless survey for the U.S. Census Bureau in March, said Kathy Becker, co-chair of the coalition.

        “There's never been an of ficial, countywide count that I've heard of,” said Ms. Becker, who was elected to Hamilton City Council last week. She also is a coordinator with Greater Miami Case Management, a social service agency that works with people with severe mental health problems.

        “This is monumental. Agencies and departments, churches and organizations throughout the county are cooperating,” Ms. Becker said. “I think if we can show that we as a county are working cooperatively as one big group, we can pull in a lot of additional funding for the homeless and special needs populations.”

        Homeless programs and services can pay huge dividends to mainstream society — helping people become a part of the tax-paying society, and reducing crime, Ms. Becker said.

        Next March, as the 2000 Census begins, the Census Bureau plans to launch an extensive effort to work with shelters, soup kitchens and other organizations to help count the homeless.

        “Based on our efforts to do this, the Census Bureau has asked if we'll help make their official count in the spring,” Ms. Becker said.

        Some officials estimate that homeless make up about 1 percent of Butler County's population, estimated at 324,000 in 1996. A 1997 count in Hamilton alone turned up 864 people, Ms. Becker said.

        And in the past 12 months the Hope House Shelter in Middletown took in 954 homeless, with at least 60 percent of them from Middletown, said Charles Caudill, executive director, who thinks the count is long overdue.

        People often believe there's no homeless problem in places such as Middletown because the faces of the homeless may not match their expectation, Mr. Caudill said.

        “They have an image in their mind that they're just dirty, raggedy and look like ... bums,” Mr. Caudill said. But that's often not the case, because they get clothing at area thrift stores or through donations to shelters and churches.

        He's convinced the estimated 30 volunteer counters will find plenty of people.

        The volunteers, who come from various walks of life, will work in small teams, including an on-duty police officer. They will go into all the cities and townships in the late night and early morning, when people are looking for a place to sleep, Ms. Becker said.

        The churches want to offer the food and blankets, and also send a message to the homeless that there's more help available when they're ready, said the Rev. Gene Leiter, pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Middletown.


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