Positive Results Expected from Berkeley County Homeless Count

The following appeared in The Journal on February 4, 2016.

Homeless count yields good news for Berkeley County

By Jennie Vincent (jvincent@journal-news.net), Journal News

MARTINSBURG – Homeless advocates are optimistic that the numbers collected during this year’s Point in Time Count – an annual 24-hour event that began Tuesday and ended Wednesday afternoon – will show a decrease in Berkeley County’s homeless numbers.

Originally scheduled for Jan. 26-27, the area’s heavy snowfall totals caused it to be postponed, said Jason Mansfield, a local outreach worker with the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, Inc.

Although a chilly rain fell Wednesday morning, volunteers still came out to help and were sent to some outlying areas  – including Inwood, Spring Mills and Falling Waters – to look for homeless individuals, Mansfield said.

There was more good news Tuesday afternoon because approximately two dozen volunteers – many of the students in Shepherd University’s nursing program – made quick work of surveying other parts of the community such as abandoned buildings, wooded areas and spots along train tracks that may have tents on them, he said.

Locally collected information on homeless numbers will be sent to the coalition’s main office in Bridgeport and the data will be compiled into a state report, Mansfield said, adding that this information will also be given to the federal Housing and Urban Development agency.

Volunteers tend to be impressed with this experience, Mansfield said.

“Especially for young people, we hope it will be informational, if not downright inspirational,” he said.

“Because what they end up finding out is that the homeless are just like everyone else. And in this way, are no longer invisible,” Mansfield said.
If it turns out there are fewer homeless – especially unsheltered people living outside – it will be an indication of “better utilization of shelter resources this year,” he said.

However, there is still a need for additional permanent housing for those without homes, Mansfield said.

“The ultimate goal is to have a roof over an individual’s head and a door that locks,” he said.

Iain DeJong, president and CEO of OrgCode Consulting, a Canadian citizen who lives and teaches college in Toronto, spends most of his time traveling the world studying homeless issues and helping groups understand how to effectively address the problem.

Since he is interested in success stories, DeJong said he’d come to West Virginia during this year’s homeless count because of the coalition’s innovative model for helping individuals living in urban as well as rural areas.

“What we need is a way to marry our heart and our head when trying to help homeless people. And the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness does that beautifully, because they start in a place of compassion and also add intellect into the equation to get the greatest good for people,” DeJong said.

As a result, DeJong spent part of Wednesday in the Eastern Panhandle before going to north central West Virginia.

Coalition director Zach Brown, who accompanied DeJong, said he’d recently visited the state’s southern coalfields.

Communities vary in terms of the resources available to homeless people, especially when they are nonexistent or may only be available several miles away, he said.

“So things can be a little different in a more populated area like Martinsburg. Rural poverty is a little more out of sight, out of mind. But then again, the poverty in southern West Virginia is pretty blatant – it’s pretty right in your face,” Brown said.

It takes time to find a workable model, but the coalition now has four outreach specialists – Mansfield and another individuals who work locally, as well as two in the north central part of the state – who concentrate on literally hitting the streets to find homeless individuals and try to place them in permanent housing, he said.

Staff writer Jenni Vincent can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 131, or www.twitter.com/jennivencentwv.

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