By Joe Scalise, Director of Housing Services, United Way of Summit County
Late last month, volunteers from across Summit County braved sub-freezing temperatures to take part in a yearly event – the homeless Point In Time (PIT) count. Mandated and scheduled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the PIT count is a census of all sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons in communities throughout the country. The data communities gather through the PIT count can influence the amount of federal funding for homelessness programs. To be out in the community on such a bitterly cold day, sharing conversations with those in our community who have no place to stay underscores the importance of United Way’s Housing Services.
United Way works to achieve its Bold Goals for 2025: boosting third-grade reading rates, raising high school graduation and college/career readiness rates, financially empowering working families and fighting the addiction crisis. But we know those goals can only be met if we address the basic needs of Summit County’s residents – and shelter is one of the most basic needs.
In 2017, the PIT count showed there were 591 homeless persons in Summit County, with 78 of those living without shelter. And while the total number of homeless persons decreased slightly in 2018, the number of those who were unsheltered surged to 137. In a winter like this year’s, where temperatures have dropped below zero, that means more than 100 people may be facing life-threatening conditions. United Way’s Housing Services is working to shrink that number.
United Way runs the Homeless Hotline, which conducts screening and intakes for most homeless shelters, permanent supportive housing programs, and rent payment assistance programs in Summit County. And for families who are newly homeless or facing eviction, the Rapid Rehousing program – formerly known as Home Again – helps coordinate permanent housing and provides rent payment assistance for families who are homeless or facing eviction. Together, these programs work to help people stay off the streets and to get people into safe shelters.
The PIT count is one tool we use to accomplish this. The data we gather – which goes beyond what is required by the federal government – helps us and other agencies in the Akron/Summit Continuum of Care for theHomeless target our service efforts.
But part of what makes the PIT count important is we are out in the community, building relationships with those we are working to help. Those relationships can help us refine future PIT counts, identify places where homeless people gather, and show the most vulnerable people in our community that there is someone here to help them.
If you or someone you know is homeless and needs help, contact the Homeless Hotline by calling 330.615.0577 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday – Friday. Help is also available through United Way’s 2-1-1, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Simply dial 2-1-1 for assistance. All calls are free and confidential.