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Homelessness still an issue despite low count

Posted: April 7, 2013 12:28 p.m.
Updated: April 8, 2013 5:00 a.m.

In 2012, South Carolina ranked No. 13 in the nation for food hardship, according to statistics provided by Harvest Hope Food Bank of Columbia. This week, the Chronicle-Independent looks at homelessness in Kershaw County and the many agencies fighting against homelessness and hunger in Kershaw County.

Every other year United Way of Kershaw County (UWKC) attempts to locate and survey the homeless population in Kershaw County. This year UWKC found 50 people that were willing to take the one-page survey required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): 43 had no permanent housing and seven lived at New Day on Mill transitional housing.

A "homeless" person is someone who "lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence," according to Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. People living in shelters, motels, abandoned buildings and crowded living conditions or simply substandard conditions not adequate for day-to-day living, are considered homeless, according the act.

UWKC’s Housing Coordinator Marie Sheheen said the 50 people who took this year’s survey is just a snapshot of the homeless population in Kershaw County. In the 2011 count, UWKC counted 95 homeless people, Sheheen said. Urban areas like Columbia and Greenville do street surveys using a number of volunteers and "social service professionals." Rural counties like Kershaw rely on organizations that serve the homeless population to identify the homeless population, Sheheen said; although they do have some volunteers who travel to known areas where homeless people congregate or live. HUD’s survey does not include multiple families or persons who live in one home or individuals living in hotels/motels for more than two weeks, however. Many people rely on family or live in places where they can pay week-to-week, due to employment uncertainty or lack of affordable housing, she said. One of the challenges of the survey is that you have to find the homeless population and they have to be willing to take the survey, Sheheen said. If people living with family or make their home in a motel, the number of homeless people would automatically increase, she said.

New Day on Mill Project Director Harriet Reid said most people in Kershaw County can’t tell who is homeless or not because Kershaw County is so rural.

"You don’t see the homeless population in Kershaw County carrying everything they own like you might in a more densely populated area, so you don’t know right away if someone is homeless or not," she said.

"How many paychecks could you go without before becoming homeless?" is the question Reid often asks to people who don’t quite understand the path to homelessness. Many people are just a paycheck away from being homeless, she said. Those living in hotels or with family many times are just a few weeks or months away from sleeping in the car because they’ve overburdened the host family, she said.

HUD’s survey asks where the person in questions spent the night on Jan. 24, 2013; what county were they in that night; how long have they gone without housing; how many times have they been homeless in the past three years; and if they ever received treatment for services such as mental illness, long-term physical disability or HIV/AIDS. The survey also asks whether the person filling out the survey has ever served in the military or been a victim of domestic violence, among other personal questions such as social security number and date of birth.

The first question, "Where did you spend the night on Jan. 24, 2013?" listed several options such as "outdoors," "car/other vehicle," "structure/house that is lacking any of the following: a place to cook food, drinking water, heat, restroom/place to bathe," "emergency shelter" and several other options.

HUD requires all agencies who receive funding for homeless services and housing to count the homeless population. The survey can help bring money into certain areas to help provide services for the homeless population. Kershaw County is a part of the Midlands Area Consortium for Homeless (MACH), which "addresses homelessness through collaboration, advocacy, and planning. MACH serves 60 agencies in 14 counties, including Kershaw County. The 14 counties use a network called Homeless Management Information System (HMIS); it is a federally required internet management system used by homeless care providers, HUD and some government agencies to track services for those in need.

Coming Wednesday: organizations fighting hunger and homelessness in Kershaw County.

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