In Centre County, homelessness doesn’t look like what you might expect. As part of the annual Point-in-Time count, a total of 62 people were identified as “sheltered homeless,” and four people were found to be “unsheltered.” But those numbers don’t show the full picture.
“(Homelessness) affects so many people on all different levels,” said Morgan Wasikonis, executive director of Housing Transitions. “It’s not just the people you see on the street.”
In January, 17 people from various local agencies and organizations took part in the count, which is a nationwide initiative that aims to give a one-day snapshot of how many people are homeless in a community.
The teams went to businesses in the county to ask if they knew anyone who didn’t have a home and also went off of leads from others in the community, Faith Ryan, director of the Centre County Office of Adult Services, said.
Though they only found four people who were unsheltered on Jan. 24, they had a total of 25 leads from people in the community who knew of someone who could be classified as unsheltered, and another five leads for individuals and families struggling with housing.
“Unsheltered” individuals are those who are living or sleeping somewhere that’s not meant for human habitation, such as vehicles, streets, abandoned buildings, bus stations, etc., according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
There’s also the “sheltered homeless” population, the people who found a suitable place to sleep that night, such as an emergency shelter or in a transitional housing program.
Of the 62 “sheltered homeless,” 32 found emergency shelter: 11 at Out of the Cold: Centre County, 10 at Housing Transitions, 10 at the Centre County Women’s Resource Center and one at the county’s Youth Service Bureau. Thirty were in transitional housing: six at Hearts for Homeless, two at Housing Transitions, 16 at the Women’s Resource Center and six at the Youth Services Bureau.
The problem is that during this one day of outreach, many factors can skew the count. Someone may be crashing at a friend’s house or staying with family that night, so it’s difficult to get an accurate number.
Ryan said they are aware of a lot of people in the area who would be considered an unsheltered homeless person, but they have to physically see them that day in order to be counted.
Local nonprofits and organizations are doing what they can to help people in need, but funding always plays a factor in what resources are available and how many people are able to be served.
“November was a heart attack, shock moment. I think we had 117 phone calls for (the Rental Assistance Program) that month and $107,000 we couldn’t meet,” Ryan said. “So, what happens when we run out of money is we try to refer back out to places like Centre Helps and Catholic Charities and Salvation Army.”
The Office of Adult Services applies for grants throughout the year and divvies up those funds between a number of programs.
Housing Transitions, a family shelter, has both emergency and transitional housing. The nonprofit’s Centre House, which can accommodate about 10 people depending on family size, typically serves people for 30 days, but in certain situations longer stays are available.
A permanent supportive housing program is also a service Housing Transitions provides. The program, dubbed Nittany House, houses people who were chronically homeless, meaning they were unsheltered for more than a year straight, or for 12 months combined in a three-year period, according to Wasikonis.
She said Housing Transitions and other local shelters can always use volunteer support and donations, but the way people can help the most is if they educate themselves on the issue and ask, “Why is (homelessness) such a huge problem?”
“How do we help reduce the stigma of getting help before it becomes an issue, like with addiction and mental health?” Wasikonis said.