Homelessness is not as visible in Stark County as it is in major cities where panhandlers are as common as taxi cabs. Yet, homelessness is ever present locally, at times taxing local social service agencies and filling emergency and temporary shelters to capacity.In January, homeless service providers and volunteers counted 460 people—including 286 persons with children—who didn’t have a stable place to live. They either were staying at an emergency shelter or in temporary housing or had been living on the street or in other places not fit for human habitation.
Jean C. Van Ness, senior program officer/special projects for the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton, said while the count, which is part of the federally required annual Point-in-Time surveys, is valuable for year-to-year comparisons, it only serves as a snapshot for a specific period of time. She said a truer gauge is the number of calls the county’s Homeless Hotline receives every month from people needing house help.
“The (actual) number of people who are homeless over the course of a year is six times higher than what the Point-in-Time count is,” said Van Ness, who chairs the 17-member board that leads the Homeless Continuum of Care of Stark County.
And that estimate doesn’t include the number of people who are at risk of homelessness—a figure that has more than doubled over the past seven years.
An end to homelessness?
The federal government has said it wants to end homelessness by 2022 and has set benchmarks for communities across the nation to meet along the way.
Members of the Homeless Continuum of Care of Stark County are more realistic.
“We’re never going to achieve zero,” Van Ness said. “We’re working toward a system that doesn’t have a big backlog and that can rapidly rehouse people who become homeless.”
The coalition, which includes more than 50 social service agencies, churches, schools, local governments and court systems, has been focusing its efforts and money in meeting the national goals of ending homelessness for veterans and finding permanent housing for those hardest to house, known as the chronically homeless.
They have spent thousands of dollars on developing additional affordable housing units and on providing more services to address the underlying reasons that led them to lose their homes. Agencies also have ramped up their efforts to provide what’s known as “rapid rehousing,” where families and individuals who are residing in an emergency or transitional shelter are given financial help to obtain housing until their situation stabilizes.
Stark County nearly reached its goal for veterans near the end of 2015. Only five veterans remained homeless at the time, and two of them were close to obtaining housing. But an unexpected surge of veterans needed housing occurred, causing the number of homeless veterans to rise to 16 when the Point-in-Time count was conducted in January. It’s unknown what caused the surge.
The number of chronically homeless has continued to decline in Stark County over the past two years, and homeless service providers are optimistic they can house all those who are chronically homeless by the end of 2017.
Jennifer Keaton, program manager for the Stark County Homeless Hotline, said the process will have its stops and starts because the chronically homeless need more help than simply a roof over their heads. She said they often aren’t used to living in four walls or sleeping on a bed, so they sometimes will leave the house to return to the more familiar streets.
“We go back and try again and eventually, they make progress,” Keaton said. “Even if they burn bridges, we don’t give up on them.”
One area of concern for local homeless service providers is the rising number of people who are at risk of homelessness.
According to the most recent Point-in-Time count, the number of Stark County residents at imminent risk of becoming homeless has doubled since 2009—from 246 in 2009 to 563 in 2016.
Van Ness said that while Stark County receives millions of dollars in government funding to help people who are homeless, few state and federal resources can be dedicated to fund homeless prevention.
She said the continuum agreed to create a task force to coordinate the efforts of the local agencies and churches that already provide people help to prevent evictions and foreclosures.
“We knew as a group that prevention was so hard to do well,” Van Ness said. “We started talking about how to do it better.”
Why do you volunteer?
“I can’t lie to you, it’s very enjoyable. There’s a selfish part of me that gets more out of the experience than those folks we’re serving. It’s very gratifying to see people who have so little but are still humble and appreciative. I probably get more pleases and thank yous in that room than I ever heard working hot lunch in my youngster’s parochial elementary school way back when.”
How would you describe the people who you meet at the shelter?
“At least half of the people, if they are sitting in the food court of the mall, you probably wouldn’t realize (they were homeless). … Some are employed with either minimum wage or low-paying jobs. Most of them have little to no health care.
“The situations that are always the hardest for me to accept is when there are children. One night when I was passing out plates of food, I asked one girl if she wanted some dessert. She said, ‘I would love some dessert. Today is my 14th birthday. Even after she said it, (no one) at the table, said, ‘Hey, happy birthday.’ I said, ‘Good for you.’ … How sad because when you grow up in a house with a family, it’s a special day, and there’s a candle in something (cake, cupcake, etc.), and they’re singing happy birthday to you.”
What do you believe is the biggest misconception people have about those who are homeless?
“That they are lazy. That they’re dangerous and scammers.”
Fete, whose mother left when he was an infant and whose father died just before his 15th birthday, said people often don’t take the time to learn about the circumstances behind why someone becomes homeless.
“Everybody has a back story. They are mothers, sons, former co-workers. Like us, everybody has a back story. I don’t think anyone one day woke up and said I think I’m going to try homeless.”
First thing you would do for people who are homeless if you won the lottery?
“Build the best homeless shelter you’ve ever seen. All the amenities that they don’t get to experience, like a hair salon and spa services. Why shouldn’t a homeless woman have a mani-pedi at least once a year? Or a real haircut?”
Fete’s dream shelter also would include a fruit and vegetable stand, a pool, a library, flat-screen TVs, as well as large beds, clean sheets and warm showers.
624 Scranton Ave., Alliance, 330-821-6332
Provides permanent support housing for homeless families with children, transitional housing and an emergency shelter.
333 E Market St., Alliance, 918-994-2836
Provides food and clothing to the homeless through the faith-based nonprofit organization.
Community Services of Stark County, Inc.
• 1207 W State St., Suite M, Alliance, 330-821-8407
• 625 Cleveland Ave. NW, Canton, 330-455-0374
• Community Services of Stark County, Inc. at Goodwill Industries Campus
408 Ninth St. SW, Canton, 330-994-1443
• Community Services of Stark County, Inc. in Massillon
412 Lincoln Way E, Massillon, 330-833-8516
Provides a family shelter and self-sufficiency programs for homeless families and single women, emergency assistance such as with rent and utilities, permanent supportive housing and services for young adults who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and have mental health or substance abuse issues.
Crisis Intervention and Recovery Center
• Recovery Center—832 McKinley Ave. NW, Canton
• Crisis Intervention Center—2421 13th St. NW, Canton
Crisis hotline: 330-452-6000
Business Number: 330-452-9812
Provides permanent supportive housing for those with mental illness and substance abuse issues and after-hours coverage of the homeless hotline to link callers to emergency housing.
ICAN Housing Solutions
1214 Market Ave. N, Canton, 330-455-9100
Provides housing and emergency assistance to people with severe mental illness, and is the only housing provider that performs street outreach to identify people in need.
1253 Third St. SE, Canton, 330-453-9199
Provides housing, life skills training and support services to young women who left the foster care system and were not prepared to live independently and to homeless teens and homeless young adults diagnosed with autism.
Refuge of Hope
405 Third St. NE, Canton, 330-453-1785
Provides emergency shelter for adult men and free meals to those in need.
Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton
400 Market Ave. N, Suite 300, Canton, 330-454-5800
Provides funding to agencies that provide homeless services.
Stark County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery
121 Cleveland Ave. SW, Canton, 330-455-6644
Provides funding to agencies that serve people who are homeless and operates the Homeless Hotline, which refers callers to appropriate shelters and other programs for the homeless.
Stark Metropolitan Housing Authority
400 Tuscarawas St. E, Canton, 330-454-8051
Operates more than 2,500 affordable housing units and provides housing vouchers and other financial help for people who are homeless.
231 Sixth St. NE, Canton, 330-453-7644
Provides emergency shelter, permanent supportive housing, homeless prevention services and tools to help the homeless find and keep housing as well as become self-sufficient.
YWCA of Alliance
239 E Market St., Alliance, 330-823-1840
Operates low-cost transitional housing for women.