Friday, January 24th, 2014
Local agency to conduct first-ever homeless count
By Doug Drexler
CELINA - A local agency for the first-time ever is leading a 15-hour effort this week to count homeless people in Mercer and Auglaize counties.
The count, which will take place from 5 p.m. Tuesday through 8 a.m. Wednesday, is part of the U.S. Department of Housing's campaign to fight homelessness and gather data to fund housing efforts, Sources Community Network Services Interim Director Kirk Moriarty said during a meeting Thursday.
Sources' officials have solicited law enforcement officials, ministerial associations and other agencies to facilitate the one-night effort.
Moriarty said police and sheriff's deputies will be given care packages to distribute and a survey form to be filled out for each homeless person they find. Sources, located on Brandon Avenue, also plans to arrange for COLT vehicles to transfer people from Agape Ministries in St. Marys to the Celina office to pick up care packages and complete the survey.
The agency also is seeking donations through noon Tuesday to provide the homeless with blankets, winter hats, gloves, nonperishable food, coats and candles, he said. Moriarty noted that some homeless people huddle over candles for heat to survive the brutal cold weather. Those in need also will be given information about housing programs.
Kathy Bayless, Agape executive director, said she knows of eight Auglaize County families - approximately 20 people - who are living in cars. She fears some homeless families may avoid the census, particularly if it is conducted by law enforcement. Some parents fear losing custody of their children if they have no home, she said.
"They're the discarded people," Bayless said.
The cold weather also is causing problems for the Heating and Energy Assistance Program, coordinator Deb Kemper said.
"We've got kind of a propane disaster," she said.
Suppliers are unable to buy adequate amounts of propane and are raising prices and limiting supply, she said. Some suppliers limit purchases to 100 gallons per trip - enough for about a month's supply, she said.
"We have some people who are out of propane and have no way of getting any," she said, adding the shortage is limiting how much help HEAP can provide.
A failing computer server also is complicating efforts at Sources. Assistance applications that formerly took about 20 minutes to complete now take more than an hour due to persistent computer crashes, she said. Moriarty said he is in the process of getting a new computer.
"We know how long the server has been here, and we know it needs replaced," board president Tammy Barger said.
The Sources board also discussed the role the agency will play in helping residents of Mercelina Mobile Park who were notified they must vacate their homes later this year. The property is for sale; a purchase is pending by the city of Celina, which seeks to expand its parks.
Board member Kathy Mescher said Sources will operate mainly as an advocate for residents who must move and do not have the resources to afford a new home. Sources, Mercer County Council on Aging and OUR Home Family Resources currently are conducting resident assessments to prioritize assistance.
Board member Ray Costello expressed concern that Sources could be held responsible for moving costs. Mescher said the group is only helping with the assessment and is not involved with the moving process.
"We're not on the hook for it," she said.
Barger said Sources needs to step in.
"The important thing is to show we care," she said, adding the agencies can help residents find the necessary resources. "That's why this is such a huge part of why these three agencies are involved."
Moriarty said it will be tough to find housing in the $180 to $220 per month range the residents are now paying at the Mercelina park. He said he's begun contacting recycling companies to see if they would buy the mobile homes for scrap metal.
Kemper added that some winter assistance may be available if people agree to move before the cold weather season ends.