York County counts more homeless citizens in 2016

Sean Philip Cotter
  • York City had 540 "sheltered" homeless, and 70 "unsheltered" homeless, according to a 2016 count
  • There were 475 sheltered homeless citizens in 2015, up from 423 in 2014 and 399 in 2013
  • Some live in places"not fit for habitation," such as a car or an abandoned building

The year's count of York County's homeless population tallied significantly more people than last year's, but that may just be because the count has become more thorough.

The final tally for the 2016 point-in-time count, conducted Feb. 3 and 4, was 540 "sheltered" homeless, and 70 "unsheltered" homeless.

There were 475 sheltered homeless citizens in 2015, up from 423 in 2014 and 399 in 2013.

"That’s an enormous jump," said Kelly Blechertas, a program coordinator for the York County Planning Commission who deals with much of the data on homeless people in York County.

But Blechertas attributes that in large part to the counters simply being better at finding homeless folks, especially in the southern parts of the county, where they have teamed up with more organizations in the area to know where homeless people normally go.

"We’re checking more of those areas we didn’t check in the past," she said.

She said it doesn't appear any of the broken-down numbers, which account for gender, race, ethnicity and other characteristics, depart that dramatically from other years' counts, though they're still processing the data. She said the York County Continuum of Care, which deals with homeless people in York county, just finished collecting all the data last week.

York County counts its homeless

Here's how the count works: The "sheltered" homeless get tallied first, with all the major shelters and transitional housing units in the York area reporting who slept under their roofs that evening.

And then the Continuum of Care workers and volunteers used a multi-pronged approach on Thursday to try to figure out the number of "unsheltered" homeless. Some groups of volunteers started early in the morning, checking out parking lots and other places where homeless people sleeping out on the street might spend the night. Others went to the soup kitchens around the area, places where people out on the street are likely to come for a meal.

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They count people who spent the last night somewhere "not fit for habitation," such as a car or an abandoned building, Blechertas said. This means — per HUD's instructions — they don't include people who said they spent the past night on a friend or relative's couch, she said.

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The count is complex, with a further twist thrown in that the county includes in its tally people in permanent-housing programs, but HUD doesn't want that data, so the report Blechertas submits has a lower amount than the number the county uses. The HUD data counts 364 homeless people, of whom 148 are under 18.

The counters tallied 16 unaccompanied minors who were homeless, according to the data submitted to HUD. Three of them are transgender girls; Blechertas said the three were found together, and it's the first time anyone identifying as transgender has been tallied in York County.

Four of the homeless people counted are veterans.

Nine people were chronically homeless, meaning they've been homeless for a significant amount of time, as determined by various questions.

Blechertas said a smaller percentage of people than normal said they had a serious mental illness or drug addiction. According to the submitted data, 42 people said they were seriously mentally ill, and 27 said they abused drugs.

Staff and volunteers of York County Human Services provide donated items and conduct a homeless count at Our Daily Bread on South George Street, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

— Reach Sean Cotter atscotter@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.