Homeless count conducted; waiting for numbers

Krystle Wagner • Feb 6, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Officials will soon have an updated look at the number of Ottawa County residents experiencing homelessness.

The data is still being reported from the annual point-in-time count, which took place Jan. 30. Conducted by the Greater Ottawa County United Way’s Lakeshore Housing Alliance, the count looks at people living unsheltered, and in emergency and transitional housing, in the county.

The count is always conducted on the last Wednesday in January.

Given the polar vortex that froze Michigan last week, volunteers modified their efforts given the likelihood people would seek shelter in warming centers throughout the county. The count volunteers visited 24-hour establishments, and they didn’t report seeing anyone or hearing stories about individuals using the places for warmth or shelter, said Lyn Raymond, director of the Lakeshore Housing Alliance.

Typically, volunteers search parking lots where people might live in their cars and other areas not meant for living.

Raymond visited warming centers in the Holland area on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning, where she spoke with people facing homelessness. She said some shared experiences such as evictions from living situations because of family conflicts, and leases not being renewed because landlords wanted to upgrade the apartment and increase the rent.

Raymond said she knows there are others, and they’re hopeful they found shelter at a warming center or the rescue mission.

The stories she heard from residents are similar to what agencies report for people seeking their assistance, Raymond said.

Law enforcement officers also reported checking in areas — under bridges and in woods — where people have been known to go, and they didn’t see anyone, Raymond said.

While the point-in-time count is a snapshot of one night, Raymond said it also provides a picture of homelessness throughout the year. She said they have to dive deeper into the data to determine why people become homeless. The deeper look helps determine where to focus when they have opportunities to make improvements, create programming and evaluate the successfulness of current programs, Raymond explained.

“We need to look at that to ensure we’re meeting the needs of people experiencing homelessness,” she said.

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