Annual count seeks to tally, aid homeless in freezing temperatures

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January 13, 2019 | 7:05 AM

In skin-stinging, bone-chilling, toe-freezing cold Wednesday, teams scoured dozens of Pittsburgh neighborhoods and Allegheny County municipalities with a mission: count the region’s homeless population.

Armed with a backpack filled with hand warmers, t-shirts, underwear, tissues, toiletries, and the overdose-reversing drug Narcan, Anne Kainaroi and Alex Herisko, of nonprofit Community Human Services, made up one team of many looking for people without shelter in the Strip District. They also carried blankets and blank forms to gather names and demographic information from anyone they encountered.

The annual “Point-in-Time” count is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is tied to federal funding.

Human service workers and volunteers covered 34 different areas Wednesday, said Abigail Horn, deputy director of the office of community services at the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.

While the annual count always is taken in January, with Wednesday’s temperatures dipping below zero, it was one of the coldest in recent memory.

Area homeless shelters were also offering additional hours and outreach Wednesday due to the temperatures.

“This is the coldest night I’ve ever done this,” said Ms. Kainaroi, director of customer service and intake at CHS. “It adds a different element of concern. Yes, we want to get Point-in-Time done; we also want to sweep the streets and make sure that there’s nobody that’s facing a life-and-death experience out there.”

It didn’t take long before they encountered someone — an older man in a Strip District alleyway, nestled in blankets and surrounded by shopping carts.

“Are you warm enough?” Ms. Kainaroi asked. “Do you want hand warmers?”

The man declined to answer any of their questions for the Point-in-Time count: age, race, veteran status, and other demographic data.

“We’re worried about you tonight, it’s really cold,” Ms. Kainaroi said to the man, one of two homeless people they encountered during their two hours in the Strip.

Declining their offers of shelter and assistance, he said he didn’t want to leave because he didn’t want the police to take his things.

From the alley, the two headed down to an area along the Allegheny River. They found several tents, flattened cardboard boxes, and tarps, but no people.

“Hopefully that means they are in somewhere,” said Ms. Kainaroi.

The count includes those sleeping in shelters and those the team was looking for Wednesday night — unsheltered individuals sleeping outside, in cars, in abandoned buildings, or other structures not intended for habitation.

Because of HUD’s specific way of defining homelessness, it doesn’t include anyone “doubled-up” — sleeping on a friend’s couch, for instance.

It’s important to get an accurate count.

“That really ties into the amount of resources that we are eligible for and can kind of give a real picture of what the need is, so we can better discuss solutions and opportunities to get people indoors,” explained Ms. Kainaroi.

Last year’s count found 783 homeless people in Allegheny County. That’s a decrease from recent years, though, in part due to fewer people living in what’s called “transitional” housing. This type of housing assistance, where people can live for up to two years before going to more permanent housing, has been de-emphasized in favor of other types, such as “rapid rehousing” to get people off the streets.

People in this type of housing aren’t counted as being homeless, though those in transitional housing are.

“I think we are implementing some strong policies and approaches that are helping getting people housed [and off] the street,” said Ms. Horn.

The total number of people counted Wednesday will be submitted to the county department of human services and a full tally will be released later.

 

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909.

First Published January 31, 2019, 7:00am

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