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Groups check Alle-Kiski Valley in regular count of the homeless

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 1:12 a.m.
Lighthouse Ministries Pastor Steve Gabor checks his phone while waiting for more homeless people to visit during the annual homeless count hosted by Westmoreland Coalition on Housing at Lighthouse Ministries in Arnold. Chrystal Owens, left, fills out paperwork to learn more information about the services available for homeless. Gabor said a dozen homeless people were accounted for on Wednesday, Jan 30, 2013. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

Even before it started, volunteers planning a count of homeless people said they anticipated Wednesday's night survey to underreport the true number of people needing housing in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

At least 90 homeless people who live by themselves are taking part in Allegheny Valley Association of Churches programs funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

More than 200 are receiving services elsewhere across the Valley, but some “unsheltered homeless” people still surface in the “point in time” survey.

“That includes children,” said Karen Snair, AVAC's executive director. The programs include transitional and supported housing.

“The face of homelessness has changed,” Snair said. “The national average age is 9.

“Most people think it's people living under a bridge and holding a brown paper bag,” Snair said. “There are some, but the great majority are not.”

HUD-required surveys were planned for 8 to 10 p.m. in Arnold and New Kensington, and in Allegheny, Butler and Armstrong counties.

Arnold/New Kensington

Twelve homeless people stopped in to fill out the surveys at Lighthouse Ministries in Arnold, said the Rev. Steve Gabor.

Gabor said he sees many more people attending the biweekly lunches and other programs offered through his ministry.

“There were a lot more people that were going to come,” he said. “Maybe the weather kept them away. Most of the people are really shy. The old-timers have been homeless for a long time. and that's just part of the life.”

Last year, six people completed surveys during the two hours set aside in Arnold and New Kensington, said Gabor.

“After 10 p.m. we had a lot of people who came asked to fill in a survey,” he said.

In 2011, 14 people completed the survey.

“There are more out there needing help,” Gabor said.

“This year, I'm also going out to places to see them,” Gabor said. “Some are afraid because there are police warrants for their arrest.”

He hopes to obtain a building and open a homeless center for men.

“The only shelter for men in the county is in Latrobe,” Gabor said. “Most of these people can't drive.”

But that's not true for all.

“We've had homeless people who have college degrees and were jobless,” Gabor said. “One man has been able to get a place because he has a job again.”

Westmoreland County

The Arnold-New Kensington unsheltered homeless count will be included with numbers from four other parts of the county, said Bill Connolly, of Westmoreland Community Action.

“We expect a 10 percent increase this year,” he said.

Counts will also be taken in Latrobe, where a men's shelter is located, as well as Greensburg, Jeannette and Monessen.

Allegheny County

Much of Allegheny County's focus will be on Pittsburgh, McKeesport and McKees Rocks, but data will come in from the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches and elsewhere, said Chuck Keenan, homeless coordinator for Allegheny County's Human Services Department.Last year, the point in time survey identified 56 homeless people not receiving services.

Emergency warming centers attract many others.

Volunteers and some social services workers and police will also being taking surveys of unsheltered people in Armstrong and Butler counties.

Armstrong County

In the 2011 survey in Armstrong County, there were 133 people in shelters and four others living on the street, according to Kim Pivetta, community development director for Armstrong Community Action.

Last year, 87 were found in shelters. But an August survey revealed eight homeless living on the street “from Freeport, Leechburg and Apollo to Crooked Creek and Kittanning,” she said.

Wednesday's count will likely be between 70 to 80, Pivetta said.

In the last 25 years, Armstrong County has assisted homeless people who originated from every state.

“We've even had some people from other countries who found themselves left here, unable to communicate, through no fault of their own,” she said.

Butler County

“We're seeing a shift from individuals to families, many with children,” said Butler County Human Services' Amanda Feltenberger.

There are about 150 sheltered spaces for the homeless across Butler County.

When the weather is bad, many others stay with friends or relatives and become “couch hoppers,” she said.

Another survey on Aug. 15 found five individuals and a family of one adult and four children “in the Sarver area and elsewhere living outdoors.”

Three individuals and a family of two adults and five children were seriously in risk of losing their homes, Feltenberger said.

In addition, the August survey showed 16 individuals and seven families, with eight adults and 12 children were staying in shelters across Butler County.

Feltenberger said the agency tries to maximize its survey by asking formerly homeless people where they stayed.

HUD Pittsburgh Director Jane Miller left her office early to take part in the survey and could not be reached Wednesday.

Surveys are done in shelters every year, but every other year surveys are done on the street as well, said Miller's spokeswoman, Lisa Wolfe.

“Each individual is a person,” Wolfe said, “with his or her tragedy played out in shelters or on the street.”

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or Staff writer Liz Hayes contributed to this report.

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