According to the 2016 Point-in-Time (PIT) count, the number of Champaign County residents considered homeless by the federal government’s definition fell slightly a year ago after experiencing a spike in 2015. Based on the number of individuals currently staying at the Caring Kitchen in Urbana, homelessness may be on the rise as Champaign County Continuum of Care (CoC) officials prepare for the 2017 PIT count set for Jan. 24 at the shelter, 300 Miami St.
The PIT count, which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires all CoCs in the country to participate in, was created to take an unduplicated census of individuals experiencing homelessness (sheltered or not) on a given day in January.
“To be considered homeless (for the PIT count), you have to be living in a place that is not for human habitation,” Caring Kitchen Executive Director Marilyn Cohn said. “For instance, an abandoned car or under a bridge. If you are couch surfing (sleeping on the couch of a friend or family member) then you have a roof over your head and aren’t considered homeless.
“Also, we can’t count those in jail who would be homeless otherwise and people in hotels, unless they were put there by the shelter,” she added.
Last year’s PIT count showed the county had 15 homeless individuals, down from 17 in 2015. In both 2015 and 2016, all the homeless people were sheltered at the Caring Kitchen during the time of the count. In 2014, however, eight people were homeless at the time of the count, one of whom was living unsheltered.
As of Jan. 12, the Caring Kitchen was providing shelter for 18 individuals, so the 2017 PIT count is destined to see at least a slight rise from the 2016 total.
While it’s easy to count those living at the shelter on the day of the PIT count, checking for residents living without a roof over their heads can be a challenge for many counties. Champaign County, however, doesn’t face the same challenges as bigger counties like Franklin do.
“We pretty much know who is living out in the elements thanks to people in our community, churches, the police and the sheriff, because they all call us when they are aware of someone living outdoors,” Cohn said. “We communicate with one another very well to be able to do that. I’ll still be going out (Jan. 24) just double-checking so we don’t miss anyone.”
HUD is pushing local agencies to work more with individuals who continue to end up on the street or in a shelter year after year.
“HUD’s push right now is to start working more with chronically homeless people who are showing up over and over again, at least four times or more within three years,” Cohn said.
While the PIT count unfolds on Jan. 24, the soup kitchen at the county’s homeless shelter will be up and running for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the Champaign County CoC will be on site to help residents get information on various services its agencies offer countywide.
“Our Champaign County Continuum of Care will be setting up different booths, so we will be hosting kind of like a fair featuring local agencies involved with continuum of care,” Cohn said.
In addition, thanks to a grant from the Susan G. Komen organization, the Mercy Health mobile mammography unit will be offering free mammograms from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. outside the Caring Kitchen.
“You have to be at least 35 years old,” Cohn said. “We are really excited to be offering this service as the United Way was able to hook us up with the Mercy Health mobile unit.”
The Champaign Health District will also be in attendance offering free blood pressure and blood sugar screenings.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-508-2304 or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.