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Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Homeless numbers increase in past year

Sunday, March 17, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

The number of homeless people found in Henry County and Martinsville in a one-day annual count increased from 2012 to 2013.

Ronnie Pannell, continuum of care manager for the West Piedmont Better Housing Coalition, attributed the findings of the county to increased efforts to count homeless people, increased reporting of homeless children and an increase in child poverty.

Combined, the numbers of homeless people in Henry County and Martinsville found in the annual point-in-time count were 60 in 2011, 51 in 2012 and 157 in 2013, according to statistics from Pannell. The count was done locally Jan. 24.

But Jim Tobin, immediate past president of the housing coalition, raised a “caution sign” on the results because a change in the definition of homelessness allowed more people to be counted in 2013 than in 2012. People who were staying temporarily with family or friends could not be counted in 2012 but they could be counted in 2013, he said.

“I think it would be inaccurate to say it more than doubled,” Tobin said of the numbers of homeless people counted in the city and county in 2012 compared with 2013.

However, he added that his “gut feeling” was there had been a long-term, gradual increase in homelessness here. It is “directly related to the economy,” including such things as long-term poverty and people’s unemployment benefits running out, he said.

“It’s a big enough of an issue; it really demands attention and a high level of concern from the community,” Tobin said of homelessness.

Broken down, the total number of homeless people in Henry County increased from eight (five adults and three children under age 18) in 2012 to 64 (33 adults and 31 children) in 2013.

The total number of homeless people in Martinsville increased from 43 (42 adults and one child) in 2012 to 93 (71 adults and 22 children) in 2013, according to Pannell’s statistics.

In Patrick County, the total number of homeless people rose from 12 (eight adults and four children) in 2012 to 14 (seven adults and seven children) in 2013, statistics showed.

The survey was conducted at such places and organizations as food kitchens, the Salvation Army, Step Inc. and Community Fellowship, and at public places where homeless people are known to spend time, Pannell said. Volunteers who conducted the count were encouraged to read a questionnaire to homeless people, who responded verbally.

In the 2013 count, unemployment was the No. 1 reason cited for homelessness in all three localities, according to statistics Pannell provided. Other reasons cited by homeless people in Martinsville and Henry County included past incarceration, substance abuse, disability and domestic violence. Eviction also was mentioned as a reason by some in Martinsville and in Patrick County, and natural disaster was cited by some in Henry County.

On a 2013 question about the frequency of homelessness, nearly equal numbers of people surveyed in Henry County and Martinsville indicated they had been homeless one time in the past three years as those who said they had been homeless two or three times. A much smaller number of people indicated they had been homeless four or more times in the past three years.

In Patrick County, the number of people answering the question was small, but two or three times was the No. 1 answer, followed closely by one time and four or more times (tied).

The 2013 count “reflects that homelessness is a real issue in our community, apparently like it is in every community in Virginia,” Tobin said.

“Particularly in rural areas and small towns like our area, homelessness looks different than in big, urban centers,” where homeless people are seen on the streets, Tobin said. “Typically in rural areas and small towns, it’s much more invisible.”

The 2013 count included a question about where homeless families stayed. In Martinsville, the No. 1 answer given was pending eviction, followed (in descending order) by apartment/friend/relative, transitional shelter, emergency shelter, outdoors and other.

In Henry County, the No. 1 answer given was apartment/friend/relative followed, in descending order, by pending eviction, other and outdoors. In Patrick County, the top answer was outdoors followed by emergency shelter, apartment/friend/relative and prison/jail, all tied.

In late January each year, hundreds of continuums of care covering thousands of cities and countries nationwide organize volunteers to conduct the counts to measure homelessness in the United States, according to online information.

The count is required in applications for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding for programs for the homeless.

Tobin said the point-in-time count is a “snapshot” of people who can be identified as homeless at a particular point in time.

If the local count had been done in the middle of the summer, “you’d find bigger numbers,” Tobin said.

The rule of thumb is that for every homeless person counted, seven homeless people are not counted, he said.


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