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Homeless people found here

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

Homelessness is not an issue reserved for more metropolitan areas: people are homeless in Fayette County.

To determine an exact number, about 20 volunteers participated in the annual Point in Time count to find homeless people.

The team found 14 homeless. Last year, the group found 13 and in 2017, located 19, said Jessica Burton, Meridian Health and Region 9 Point in Time coordinator.

Federal Housing and Urban Development Department provides guidelines as to who constitutes a homeless person. “Couch surfing” from one house one night to another house another night does not fit the criteria.

In past years, someone who had been homeless but now living in a residential program could be considered transitional if they had no place to go. This year, those could not be counted, Burton said.

“People we made contact with were street homeless individuals, living in vehicles, abandoned buildings, on the street, wherever,” she said.

The count is a 24-hour period with volunteers canvassing locations where homeless have been found in the past or places they likely might stay.

Connersville Police Department and Chief Carol McQueen are important partners in the program, as the officers accompany the volunteers. Communities that Care, Fayette Regional Health System, Fayette County Probation Department, Community Corrections and others came out to make the count, Burton said.

Some helped by packing backpacks to distribute to homeless people with information about services available through Meridian or Centerstone, church telephone numbers and housing opportunities. Hygiene items and warm items like hats, gloves and socks were included. Some cooked a meal for the volunteers, she said.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars post has a clothing bank they opened up to provide clean clothes to those they found, she said.

They ran into one person who had been in last year’s count.

“That is something that is a little different in Fayette County; there have not been a lot of the same people year to year,” Burton explained. “Especially in bigger counties like Indianapolis, I know they have the same people all the time. Wayne County does, too. In Fayette County, it’s rare we have someone a couple years in a row.”

During the summer, some volunteers do an informal count and that is a different experience, Burton said. None of the places they previously visited had signs of life but in the winter, there are signs of life in some of those places but it is rare they find anyone.

“In Fayette County, those without shelter tend to be isolated,” she said. “We often tend to hear of tent cities or gathering areas but this is our fourth year and we have yet to find that.”

Among the 14 located, the volunteers found three infants and two children under age 5, all with adults.

“We were able to find resources for those we came in contact with, they at least had an option of a warm place to stay,” she said. “Some chose not to but they had the option.”

On the day of the count, Jan. 23, the temperature did not get as cold as the day prior and the day after, she said.

During the cold period Jan. 29-31, Connersville Baptist Temple and Calvary Baptist Church opened their doors for those who needed a warm place.

Steve Kirkwood, student minister at Baptist Temple, said one person came in on Jan. 29 but the city of Connersville then provided housing at a local hotel for the rest of the cold weather.

When no one came to the church Wednesday night, he drove around to places where the Point In Time count had located homeless to see if anyone remained and invite them to one of the churches. He said he could not locate anyone.

“I hope they found a warm place,” he said.

No one else showed up to Baptist Temple and no one arrived at Calvary Baptist either, he said.

During a cold stretch in 2018, he said five or six people took advantage of the church’s invitation to spend a night in a warm location.

“In years past, we’ve always followed up and I think at least that is what the state has told me makes Fayette County unique, is that we do follow up,” Burton said. “We drive by where they are and continue to reach out to them throughout the year. As a community, we wrap around people to build them up.”

Since the count, she said the volunteers have driven by locations where they had found homeless just to check on them.

“It has very much become a passion for a lot of people,” she said.