A count conducted by local agencies found more than 500 homeless people in the city, Homeless Coalition officials announced April 1. Although the count is down from last year, it doesn’t reflect the full population, Homeless Initiative Coordinator Amy Sawyer explained. The local homeless population, she noted, is expected to increase in response to worsening economic conditions.
The coalition used a nationally recognized method called a point-in-time count, which tallies the number of homeless people, both on the street and in shelters, on a given day—in this case Jan. 30, 2008.
The Homeless Coalition is a partnership involving city and county officials along with local agencies dealing with homelessness.
“We had staff as well as community volunteers go out and actually manually count people sleeping on the streets and in other facilities,” said Sawyer. “We’d caution people from looking at it as a definitive answer. We only know who was homeless that night.”
The count found 441 adults, 58 children and nine unaccompanied youths. Of the total, 225 agreed to take part in a survey. Among other things, it revealed that their average monthly income was $335 and that 50 percent derived most of their income from some form of employment.
“We’re trying to get a bigger picture,” noted Sawyer. “The total number has decreased from last year, but in my estimation, that’s due to better methods of implementing the count.”
The local homeless included 121 veterans, 181 chronic homeless, 158 who suffered from mental illness, 124 with chronic substance abuse, and 45 driven out by domestic violence. (There’s some overlap among these numbers, because the same person could be in more than one category.)
Outside factors, noted Sawyer, could easily contribute to a rise in Asheville’s homeless population.
“We really can’t ignore the larger environment—with economic slowdown, increasing housing costs, mental-health reform and even returning veterans,” she asserted. “These are outside of the homeless-services sector, but they do affect people becoming homeless. If someone experiences an episode of homelessness, our goal is to help them get housing before it becomes a way of life. But with the challenges in our larger social environment, we should expect more people becoming homeless.”
The coalition is planning to conduct another count in July and will eventually employ a running database called the Homeless Information Management System to track the number and nature of homeless people in Asheville. An estimated 12 percent of the homeless population is currently registered in the database, but the coalition hopes to increase that number to 75 percent in the future as more agencies come online, Sawyer told Xpress.
Meanwhile, Asheville’s shelter capacity stands at 258—slightly more than half of the January count. As part of the city’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, said Sawyer, Asheville is pursuing various strategies, including moving people into housing and getting local veterans’ facilities to add more beds.
To see the full results of the survey, go to www.mountainx.com/xpressfiles.