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Homeless survey misleads, Westmoreland shelter director says

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By Jennifer Reeger
Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Though only two people were counted as homeless in a survey conducted in Westmoreland County, Dan Carney said the numbers don't tell the whole story.

Another 20 people, including seven children, said they did not have a permanent place to live and were staying with relatives or friends, said Carney, the executive director of Union Mission, a Latrobe homeless shelter. The shelter coordinated the count through the Westmoreland Local Housing Options team.

“Oftentimes it's a tenuous situation,” Carney said. “They stay with someone until that bridge sort of wears itself out, and it strains the relationship.”

The point-in-time count, held from 8 to 10 p.m. on Jan. 30, is required by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine how many people are living without shelter at a given time.

The census is required by HUD, which provides grant funding for homeless assistance programs.

But while HUD's definition of “homeless” is people who do not have any shelter at all, the Westmoreland Local Housing Options Team wants to keep track of those on the edge of homelessness.

For the count, they set up five locations throughout the county where people could go for information about services.

They sent volunteers into the streets to find people without shelter.

In August, the housing team conducted its own count and reported similar numbers.

But in previous years, the number of people “doubling-up” was only in the single digits, Carney said.

And it's not just the homeless who showed up during the count.

“There is always a fair number of people who are experiencing poverty that show up these nights. Again, we offer support, encouragement and other commodities, but these folks aren't counted,” he said. “We focus on identifying those people experiencing housing crises.”

Carney did not have a count of how many people were staying in the county's homeless shelters the night of the count.

“Most of the time, we find the shelters are pretty near full,” he said. “It's rough times right now.”

Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or jreeger@tribweb.com.

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