Local advocates eye latest homeless stats
by DELANEY WALKER Banner Staff Writer
Mar 05, 2014 | 753 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Members of the local Housing Coalition reported the census taken in January to determine Bradley County’s homeless population yielded almost double the results of preceeding surveys.

United Way of Bradley County AmeriCorps VISTA Sarah Haratine said 99 people responded to survey questions.

“The emergency shelter, they typically have a capacity of 44, 45 people, so they have been the ones doing the census for us,” Haratine said. “This time we were able to expand it to the rest of the county.”

Volunteers from local government offices, educational institutions and nonprofits stepped up to distribute the survey across Bradley County.

Of those surveyed, 63 were male, 34 were female and two were transgendered.

The census collected data on the homeless situation, as well as the perceived needs of participants.

Eighty-four of the respondents claimed to live in a single adult “household type.” An additional 14 claimed a household type of at least one adult and one child.

Local resident Diane Heil, who has reached out to the homeless for 13 years, offered her knowledge on the subject.

She said many might refrain from mentioning their children for fear they will be taken away.

Bradley County Commissioner Bill Winters expressed his concern for the children labeled homeless. He asked the coalition members what could be done for the kids now in the interim of additional grants.

Family Promise executive director Eva VanHook responded.

“Most of those children are going to be under 5 years old, statistically,” VanHook said. “Most of them will be single moms, although in Cleveland, I think we have a lot more two-person families. They tend to not ask for help.”

When they do ask for help, it is difficult for them.

“I think it is very, very hard for parents to give up that control,” VanHook said. “I think they try to hold onto, ‘I can make $35 to stay in the hotel tonight and go and sell plasma.’”

She said there is no way there are just 14 children on the streets.

A question on the survey asked the participants where they spent the previous night.

Thirty-nine percent of the respondents chose “on the street or a place not meant for human habitation.” An additional 36 percent chose the emergency shelter. The remaining responses spread between a hotel or motel paid by a charitable agency, 3 percent; transitional housing, 5 percent; and no response or other, 16 percent.

A brief needs assessment asked participants to list their top need. A vast majority at 46 percent cited affordable housing or a place to stay. The second greatest need, at 16 percent was a job and income. Needs for food (14 percent), clothing (9 percent), transportation (7 percent), household items or furniture (3 percent), personal items (2 percent) and transient tickets (3 percent) made up the rest of the needs.

Haratine explained the results found a majority of respondents to be chronically homeless. Those surveyed not only said they had been homeless four or more times within the past three years (47 percent), but also 54 percent claimed to have been continuously homeless for one year or more.

Additional questions found: 

- 31 percent have been diagnosed with a permanent disability (11 percent refused to answer);

- 77 percent did not serve in the U.S. military (12 percent refused to answer);

- 35 percent said they struggled with mental illness (7 percent refused to answer);

- 53 percent said they did not struggle with substance abuse (9 percent refused to answer);

- 24 percent said they had experienced domestic violence (7 percent refused to answer); and

- 1 percent said they had been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and 86 percent said they have not been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS (11 percent refused to answer).

Members discussed how to gain more participation in the next survey.

Lindsay Hathcock, executive assistant to Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis, said he thought the gift bags handed out a week prior to the survey helped increase participation. The bags handed out a week before the point-in-time count homeless census and those handed out the day of the census contained items like flashlights, socks, hand warmers and toothbrushes.

VanHook pointed out one man worked very hard to tell his friends about the census. She said he understood the results could benefit the homeless population. Members agreed there was a certain leadership amongst the homeless who might spread the word.

Cleveland State Community College Service-Learning VISTA Kourtney Yonge said the frigid temperatures and recent snow events might have deterred some participants.

A follow-up census will be planned for late spring or early summer.

Organizations who aided in the coalition effort included the Bradley/Cleveland Community Services, Bradley County Schools, Cleveland Emergency Shelter, Cleveland State Community College, the County mayor’s office, Family Promise, the Family Violence Program, Lee University, Impact Cleveland, The Caring Place, The Refuge and the United Way.