Homelessness peaks in area

Published 1:28 pm Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Local organizations’ statistics about homelessness vary from those given in a press release from Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office.

McAuliffe recently announced Virginia’s declining homeless population. However, STEPS Center reported statistics showing the organization already seeing a larger number of homeless individuals locally since the start of its new fiscal year, which began July 1.

According to the governor’s press release, overall homelessness statewide has decreased 10.5 percent in 2016 compared to 2015 and family homelessness has decreased 17 percent in that same time period.

Despite the state statistics, STEPS CEO Sharon Harrup said the organization provided service to 11 individuals who were “literally homeless” during its last fiscal year, which ended June 30. This number is much lower than the trending statistics for the current 2017 fiscal year.

Since July 1, the Center has already helped shelter nine homeless individual and has four individuals currently being processed. Potentially, by the end of July, STEPS should have served more homeless individuals in one month than it did for the entire 2016 fiscal year.

“We use a very objective assessment tool, so that everybody that walks through our door is asked the same questions on the same assessment tool,” said Harrup. “Those people (who) score highest are the people that are served first, so if you are literally homeless or you are homeless and have small children or you have a physical disability or maybe you have a senior citizen that’s also in your family unit.”

STEPS’ mission is to “to help people break the cycles of poverty,” according to its website.

One of the ways it does this is by helping the homeless find shelter, and through programs such as providing preventative funding to help keep people in their homes and rapid rehousing to keep individuals and families from becoming literally homeless.

During fiscal year 2016, STEPS served 137 individuals through preventative housing funding; another 15 were helped with rapid rehousing, Harrup said.

“Virginia is leading the fight to end homelessness by expanding access to safe, affordable housing for families who need it,” McAuliffe said in his press release.

In addition to STEPS, organizations in Farmville such as Farmville Area Rescue Mission (FARM) and Madeline’s House are working to provide shelter for those in need.

During the winter season, FARM helps provide a place for the homeless to sleep, in a variety of churches.

“We get people in the evening, they come in, we have an intake form and as long as they’re not on the sexual offenders list, we’ll take them, 99 percent of the time,” FARM board member Debora Warner said.

While Warner declined to divulge the number of individuals served between Jan. 20 and March 6, she said during that time, the nonprofit organization provided about 167 “shelter nights,” which combines the number of nights with the number of individuals served.

“Of the people we shelter this year in the cold season, half of them were (from Farmville) and the other half of them were passing through or something else,” said Warner.

Acting Farmville Police Chief A.Q. “Andy” Ellington said when the weather turns colder during wintertime, the town does have an increase in people seeking shelter.

“But I don’t know if they’re actually permanently homeless,” Ellington said. “They seem to be ‘passthroughs.’”

According to McAuliffe’s press release, “The ongoing effort to end Virginia homelessness relies on partnerships across local, state and nonprofit organizations.”

Warner said she has not seen a local decrease in the homeless. She said she believes a lot of people do not admit to being homeless or seek assistance.

Ellington said his department always refer homeless people to the Red Cross, puts them up in a motel, “or we refer them to the local churches who participate in providing shelter.”

Ellington also said his department does not keep any statistics about homelessness.

Each January, STEPS participates in a statewide homeless count. This January, STEPS only counted two individuals, Harrup said.