January 28, 2009 in City

Homeless count to identify community needs

By The Spokesman-Review
Video: Homeless Count
Colin Mulvany photo

Homeless men doze after lunch at the House of Charity on Jan. 28, 2009. With the economy faltering, the shelter, which also serves as an emergency warming center, has seen an increase in the numbers of homeless seeking assistance.
(Full-size photo)

Homeless count
The fourth annual winter count of the area’s homeless — Every One Counts — will be held Thursday. During the one-day count, stations will be set up at the House of Charity, Women’s Hearth, and the STA Plaza, as well as various community centers and DSHS locations. The information is used to determine community needs, and is required for state funding of programs to address those needs. Call (509) 228-3200 for a list of count locations.

On days when the House of Charity opens its day room as a warming center because of extreme cold, director Ed McCarron has noticed new faces among the homeless seeking shelter there.

“We have seen guys we don’t know,” McCarron said. “They look like it’s new to them. You can just see it in their faces.”

Homelessness, a chronic problem in Spokane, may become more prevalent in the severe economic downturn as Washington companies shed jobs by the thousands. The annual winter homeless count, which occurs Thursday, will give human services officials a better grasp of the impact on the city’s working poor.

“I can’t say the economy has had an effect,” McCarron said of the number of homeless that seek shelter at the House of Charity. “But if it keeps going like this it certainly will.”

At the Truth Ministries homeless shelter on East Sprague, director Marty McKinney has noticed “a change in clientele” — more men staying until they can find jobs, as opposed to the chronic homeless with drug and alcohol problems.

The economy has affected his shelter in another way, too. McKinney said he lost two long-time donors this winter, both churches that called to say they could no longer afford to offer their support.

The cycle of layoffs and foreclosures comes amid one of the coldest, snowiest winters on record. When the temperature plunges below 15 degrees, the city authorizes selected shelters to open their doors to more people than they have beds for.

This winter, the House of Charity has become a warming center more than twice as often and to nearly three times as many homeless people than any other year since the policy was enacted by the city in November 2005. In those early days, temperatures had to reach 5 degrees before warming centers were activated.

So far this year, the House of Charity has become a warming center on 19 days, providing shelter to 737 people. In 2005, the shelter became a warming center on nine days, serving 266 people.

“The guys are so thankful we are open,” McCarron said. “We’re not pampering anyone. They sleep on the floor and get up in the morning. I regret we weren’t open more.”

Contact Kevin Graman at kevingr@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5433.

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