Report: Cecil County’s homeless count drops slightly
— Cecil County’s number of homeless persons could be down — the annual point-in-time survey conducted during a snowstorm this winter indicates a drop — however new rules changed who was counted.
Right now, the count indicates 167 in 2016, down
from 191 homeless persons in the county last year. But new rules didn’t allow 34 clients from Perry Point VA Medical Center to be counted.
“If they had been counted, we would be at 201 in 2016,” said Gwen Parrack, director of special populations service for the Cecil County Health Department.
The 2016 point in time results were revealed last week during a meeting of the Cecil County InterAgency Council on Homelessness at the health department. The council is the county’s governing body on Continuum of Care to promote community-wide planning to end homelessness and help individuals and families achieve long-term stability.
“We’re still looking really high,” Parrack said. “But each year the methods get better, so the numbers should be more accurate.”
County organizations that serve the homeless — Deep Roots at Clairvaux Farm; Chesapeake Health Education Program; On Our Own; The Paris Foundation; Cecil County Domestic Violence Shelter; and Meeting Ground’s rotating shelter, Mary Randall Center, Settlement House and Wayfarer’s House — participated in the 2016 count.
The final tally showed twice as many homeless males as females, just one of the many aspects of data the survey covered. A vast majority were white and non-veterans.
A majority of the homeless, 71 percent, are adults over the age of 25, according to the most recent count. Nearly half of the homeless have either serious mental illness or substance abuse disorders or both, while 22 were considered chronically homeless and 10 were homeless due to domestic violence. The chronic numbers in Cecil County are almost half of what they were in 2015.
“This count is only a snapshot in time, taken on one day and could have been impacted by the snowstorm,” Parrack cautioned.
In 2011, the point in time count showed 220 homeless. Since that time, the number has gone up and down, but stayed within a low of 167 in the recent count and a high of 220 from five years earlier.
The point in time census is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development once a year in January. Changes in how the count was conducted came after HUD changed the definition of homeless, explained Jason Burns, who was contracted to do the count in 2016.
“A majority of the jurisdictions do both a sheltered count and an unsheltered count,” Burns said. “Rules changed this time to not count ‘couch-surfers’ and eliminated two programs from Perry Point VA in the count because HUD changed the definition of homeless.”
Cecil County’s sheltered count was 116, while the unsheltered was 51, which is supposed to include those living in tents. The prior year’s unsheltered count was 35.
HUD categorizes housing by seasonal, emergency, transitional, rapid rehousing and permanent support housing.
“The numbers for us show an increase,” Burns said. “But those of us in the field don’t see that.”
Point in time counts are one of 60 factors considered by the federal government for funding allocations each year.
Several members of the inter-agency council asked Burns to provide them with more data from the count in specific areas when he returns to a future meeting.
Cindy Osbourne, director of Elkton Housing Authority, said HUD’s frequent policy changes impact the results of these counts.
“In my opinion, some of the decision makers are disconnected from the field,” she said.
“Sometimes getting a home doesn’t solve a homeless person’s problems,” she added, noting that many of them suffer from mental or substance disorders.
According to the latest data, Cecil County’s sheltered homeless count was 116, while the unsheltered was 51, which includes those living in tents like those photographed behind the Big Elk Mall in November.