There are more than 500 homeless people in the city, according to an annual count done by local homeless-service agencies, Homeless Coalition officials announced yesterday. Amy Sawyer, the city’s Homeless Initiative Coordinator, noted that the count, down from last year, does not reflect the full population, which is expected to rise with tightening economic conditions.
The measurement of 509 homeless people is based on a nationally used method known as a point-in-time count, involves tallying up 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 of city and county officials, along with agencies in the area that deal with the homeless issue.
“We had staff as well as community volunteers go out and actually manually count people sleeping on the streets and in other facilities,” Sawyer said. “We’d caution people from looking at it as a definitive answer. We only know who was homeless that night.”
The count had 58 children and 441 adults homeless. Of the total, 225 agreed to take surveys, revealing, among other things, that the average monthly income among them was $335 and that 50 percent got most of their income from some form of employment.
The survey’s purpose, Sawyer noted, “is that we’re trying to get a bigger picture. The total number has decreased from last year. But, in my estimation, that’s due to better methods of implementing the count.”
Among the homeless were 121 veterans, 181 chronic homeless, 158 who suffered from mental illness and 124 from chronic substance abuse, and 45 driven out by domestic violence (there’s some overlap between these numbers, as someone, for example, can be both chronically homeless and mentally ill).
Sawyer also said that outside factors could easily contribute to a rise in Asheville’s homeless.
“We really can’t ignore the larger environment — with economic slowdown, increasing housing costs, mental-health reform and even returning veterans — these are outside of the homeless-services sector, but they do affect people becoming homeless,” Sawyer asserted. “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 on another count in July, and eventually will use a running database called the Homeless Information Management System to track the number and nature of homeless people in Asheville. Currently, an estimated 12 percent of the homeless population is registered in the database.
“As more and more agencies come online, we hope to see the number in it increase,” Sawyer told Xpress.
The shelter capacity in Asheville is 258, just slightly over half of the January count. Sawyer said that, as part of the city’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness, Asheville is pursuing various strategies, including moving people into housing and getting local veterans’ facilities to expand the number of beds.
— David Forbes, staff writer