VAN WERT — A recent homeless count found that Van Wert County had 30 homeless people.

The Northwest Ohio Housing Coalition participated in a statewide “Point in Time Homeless Count” on Tuesday, Jan. 24. Throughout the state of Ohio, housing coalitions and continuum of care groups joined forces to count the number of people experiencing homelessness on one given day. This effort was organized by The Coalition on Housing and Homelessness in Ohio.

Locally, members from the Northwest Ohio Housing Coalition – Continuum of Care and local homeless service providers contacted local shelters, transitional housing providers, area service organizations, churches, schools, businesses, parks and campgrounds. Data was collected for Defiance, Fulton, Henry, Paulding, Van Wert and Williams counties.

The goal was to identify a realistic count of the number of homeless individuals or families that were “literally homeless” –meaning only those that were in shelters, in time-limited transitional housing programs, or unsheltered and living on the streets or in their cars could be included in the count.

In Van Wert six families were found to be homeless, with three males, six females and 14 children in that total. In addition, one man and six women not in families were counted as homeless.

Van Wert had the highest number of homeless individuals in the six county area that was counted by the Northwest Ohio Housing Coalition.

Defiance County came in second with 26 total, four families that consisted of two men, four women and five children in that total; and individually, 10 men, three woman and two undetermined by age or gender were found to be homeless.

Williams County had 25 homeless, Henry County had 16, Fulton County had 10 and Paulding County had six.

A total of 113 individuals within the six county area were identified to have been homeless during this year’s count. This is a 7 percent decrease from the 2016 count.

The 2017 count also indicated a significant decrease in the occurrence of family homelessness in the communities. Of those reported to have been homeless in January, 49 percent were part of a family unit (17 families containing 27 children and 28 adults). Comparably, the 2016 Point in Time results indicated that 72 percent of homeless persons were part of a family.

Homelessness in rural areas is a hidden problem. Rarely do people in rural areas see persons sleeping on a sidewalk, a park bench or under a bridge, but the reality is that even people from rural communities find themselves homeless each year and resort to sleeping in cars, in tents or campers, on front porches, in abandoned trailers or buildings, in community shelter programs or in a hotel room.

It is important to understand that there are many others that struggle with housing instability but are not counted in this effort. Lack of sufficient income combined with limited housing subsidies or affordable housing opportunities results in many people doubling or tripling up in overcrowded housing with friends and relatives. Others find themselves “couch-surfing” – staying with a different friend, relative or acquaintance each night; which can present as much of a challenge as actual homelessness.

A point in time count is a crucial activity in the community’s continuum of care process to assure effective services for homeless or at-risk persons. Local data will assist with local planning efforts and guidance to develop more effective programs and services.