Homelessness up in Williams County: half are children FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Wed, 17 Mar 1999 05:02:05 -0800 (PST)


Homelessness Is Up Slightly, Survey Finds
Preliminary Count Shows 317 Roam Streets in County

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 6, 1999; Page V03

The number of homeless people in Prince William County is virtually
unchanged from estimates made in 1989, according to statistics released
yesterday by an area homeless services council.

Taken from a 24-hour count late last month, the results indicate that there
are 317 homeless people who live in the county, and about 73 of those are
currently not housed in one of the county's emergency or transitional
shelters. Although county homeless services officials say the results are
preliminary -- two organizations have yet to report their findings from the
Jan. 25 survey -- the figures show that the county's homeless population
has not grown significantly since the beginning of the decade and that the
homeless make up just a fraction of the county's more than 270,000

Gayle Sanders, director of the Volunteers of America Homeless Prevention
Center, said the numbers most likely underestimate the number of people who
are living on the streets and in the woods and are not receiving help.

"I think the numbers are fairly accurate, but I think they're low from my
area of concern," Sanders said, referring to her efforts at an emergency
shelter. "We have to develop a better way to track people through our
outreach efforts, and this is a wonderful first step. I'm a little
surprised at the low numbers, and I think there is still work to be done."

"It is premature to speculate on the meaning of the data until full
demographic analysis is completed," said Veronica L. Roth, executive
director of Benedictine Aid and Relief for Neighbors (BARN) and an
organizer of the point-in-time homeless count. "We will be looking at the
data for wage levels, education and a host of factors that will give a
clearer picture of the people and the service need in our community."

At the turn of the decade, officials estimated that there were about 300
homeless people living in the county, some of whom were living in makeshift
campsites and were essentially "uncountable." The Jan. 25 count attempted
to put hard numbers to the estimates, and searchers combed known sites and
wooded areas to make contact with people who either have not sought help or
have been turned away from area shelters.

Of the 317 homeless identified in the search, about half were children and
more than two-thirds were part of a family living on the streets. Almost
half of the people identified in the search are currently in transitional
housing programs, and about 100 people are now in emergency shelters.

Roth said that the Homeless Service Network Council will continue to review
the new data throughout the month and that it plans to release final
numbers and analysis this spring. Roth said she thinks that the numbers are
better than any set of data the county has had in the past and that there
weren't too many people who were counted more than once in the survey.

"I think it's too early to speculate on what it all means," Roth said. "But
it certainly shows us that there is a preponderance of families with
children here, and we have to look to see what should be the next step in
helping them."


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