POST FALLS – A young man in Carhartts waited for a ride outside the Idaho National Guard Armory in Post Falls on Thursday with a box of donated clothes and some food.
The 18-year-old named Ty works as a laborer when he can find work, which lately he can’t.
He was pretty sure he and his 19-year-old wife and 2 ½-week-old son would be kicked out of their Coeur d’Alene home next month because he can’t make the rent.
By noon, 408 folks in Ty’s situation or worse had passed through the doors of the armory, 5453 E. Seltice Way, looking for some kind of help during the North Idaho Project Homeless Connect, where public and private agencies, churches, businesses and volunteers turn out in force each year to bring attention to homelessness.
“A lot of local citizens are unaware of the problem because it’s hidden,” said Patty McGruder, who works in homeless outreach for the Dirne Community Health Center.
Homeless Connect brings a wide range of services to the poor including medical and mental health screening, donations of clothes and food, employment services, even veterinary care. Last year, 274 people came through the doors during the daylong event.
It also gives St. Vincent de Paul North Idaho a chance to count the homeless, part of a national “point in time” assessment that asks, “Where did you spend the night Jan. 26?”
Last year the count identified 644 homeless, sheltered or unsheltered, a 54 percent increase from 2009. That does not include the “precariously housed,” those staying with friends or family, in a hotel, jail or treatment facility. This year’s count will not be available until next week.
Keeping track of the homeless is tough duty anywhere, but in rural North Idaho it’s really anybody’s guess.
The Department of Veterans Affairs believes there are 800 homeless veterans in Idaho’s five northern counties, according to Robert Shoeman, of the Idaho Department of Labor. It is believed that nationwide one in four homeless persons is a veteran. By this estimate, there could be as many as 3,200 total homeless in the Panhandle.
Last year the Coeur d’Alene School District counted 248 homeless children among its students, said James Curb, the district homeless liaison.
Between Oct. 3, 2009, and Aug. 31, 2010, St. Vincent found housing for 140 homeless people and stabilized 237 people about to lose their homes through a Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program grant, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Ty, who asked that his last name not be used, said if he and his wife lose their home, they would probably camp “along Hayden Creek.” He said his in-laws would take the baby for a while.
McGruder said such living arrangements are not uncommon around Coeur d’Alene, where there are only 12 emergency shelter beds for men and 12 emergency shelter beds for women and children.
She said she knows of 349 people currently living in 22 encampments or in vehicles in and around Coeur d’Alene, where camping is prohibited by law.
“Which leaves the question, ‘Where are they allowed to be?’ ” McGruder said.