The number of homeless living in Cattaraugus County appears to have again gone down for the fourth straight year.
According to the recently released results of the annual Point in Time Count — a yearly census of the county’s homeless population — conducted Jan. 29, 31 individuals were identified as meeting federal standards for being considered homeless that day. That’s a 40 percent decrease from 2013. Of those individuals, 13 were under age 18.
The Point in Time Count was conducted by the Cattaraugus County Continuum of Care, a group of local human service agencies that provide assistance to the homeless.
“There are two types of Point in Time Counts, a sheltered count and an unsheltered count,” explained Jodi Fuller, chief operating officer of planning and development at Cattaraugus Community Action Inc., a member agency of the consortium. “A shelter count is a survey of local shelters and transitional housing programs ... The unsheltered count consists of a group of volunteers physically searching locations at which homeless persons are known to seek shelter. The 2014 count was a sheltered-only count.”
She noted the continuum plans to conduct an unsheltered count next year.
This year’s count only provides a small window into homelessness throughout the county, Ms. Fuller said.
“We have a large county, and it’s mostly rural,” she said. “We really work hard at reaching out to the whole county to try and get the best possible data that we can. But if someone is finding shelter in an abandoned building and doesn’t identify themselves as homeless, we have no way of knowing that that person is there if they don’t come forward.”
Data from the last five Point in Time Counts is trending downward. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of identified homeless individuals decreased by 74 percent.
Does this mean local human services agencies are gaining the upper hand on homelessness in Cattaraugus County?
Not necessarily, Ms. Fuller said.
“We have received clarification in 2011 as to who we needed to include in the Point in Time Count and who we didn’t,” she said. “In 2010, we were doing the count incorrectly, as we were including people who were incarcerated who had nowhere to live once they were released and including people who were counted as homeless by homeless liaisons in schools. We learned that for the Point in Time Count, that’s not the data they’re looking for ... they’re looking for literal homelessness.”
Those identified in this year’s count are people who may have lost their homes because of economic issue, are fleeing domestic violence, or living with mental health issues among many other factors, Ms. Fuller said.
In addition to the sheltered count, the consortium also conducted a Housing Inventory Count to collect data on the number of beds available to homeless people. Of the 135 beds, 120 were occupied. This figure includes those identified in the Point in Time Count.
The results of this year’s count will be included in the continuum’s application for a Continuum of Care grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The grant provides funding to help the group assist area residents who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
The data also is combined with data collected across the country to help lawmakers from all levels of government better understand the national portrait of homelessness.
Agencies interested in learning more about the continuum and its work are invited to attend monthly meetings held by the group. For more information, call 945-1041 or visit www.ccaction.org.