HONESDALE, PA — During the night of a cold January 29, some 53 local volunteers scoured areas throughout Wayne County looking for homeless people sheltering in cars, barns or other unmanaged places of last resort.
Cynthia Matthews of the Wayne County Quality Council Local Housing Options Team (L-HOT) said the bi-annual Point-in-Time count was done on behalf of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which funds the council’s efforts to assist residents, identify needs, expand housing options and seek long-term solutions to homelessness.
This was the second year for the survey, done in July and January, which also provides information to school districts and hospitals, which in turn are required to monitor homelessness among those receiving services. HUD has a priority in finding people suffering from diabetes and kidney conditions, Matthews said.
Matthews said they were happy to find and contact only 10 persons, seven of whom they were able to assist to shelter. Only three of the number refused assistance and qualified as homeless by federal standards.
Commissioners Chair Brian Smith was surprised that no one wanted to be “scooped up” and taken somewhere warm.
“You can’t just scoop people up,” said Commissioner Wendell Kay, who volunteered in the count.
Matthews said the homeless they found are employed people, who are “just not able to afford a home.” They have stayed with friends and relatives and run out of options.
Kay felt a July search would likely find more people out of doors.
Smith said he was surprised “we don’t have people freezing all over,” with current crazy prices for fuels. “It’s really bad,” he said.
Matthews said advance publicity for the upcoming search prompted numerous phone calls from residents, concerned about people whom they felt were in need.
She said the council received many donations beforehand, and all those contacted by volunteers were given “care packages” including hats, gloves, blankets and hand warmers. Another dozen volunteers cooked and baked to fortify the volunteers before they went out.
Kay said the temperature was “six or seven degrees” when the nighttime search began. His group checked county-owned properties including an old group home and a ball field in Damascus and Berlin townships. He said recent snow was helpful in “looking for footprints” in unlikely places.
The Browndale Fire Department provided nine people to help other volunteers searching in “very rural” parts of the county where cell-phone service is not available.
Other county employees, as volunteers, came from the commissioners’ office; court administration; department of children and youth; behavioral and developmental programs and early intervention; fiscal maintenance and the 911 center also took part.
Commissioner Jonathan Fritz said the volunteer effort shown in the count “showed the compassion and good intent in the heart of Wayne County.”