United Way looks for public’s help

By Nicole Daughhetee
Courier Staff

COUNTY — The United Way of Pickens County needs community assistance as officials embark on the 2013 Point-In-Time (PIT) homeless count scheduled to take place on January 24.
Coordinated by the South Carolina Homeless Coalition (SCHC), the United Way is helping to conduct a thorough and accurate count of the homeless in Pickens County, which is essential if the SCHC is going to receive funding for the programs and resources designed to combat homeless and provide relief for those in need.
Steven Lambright, Manager of Initiatives and Programs for the United Way of Pickens County, said the PIT homeless count is crucial because it provides the basis for the flow of money into the state through the three Homeless Coalitions into Pickens County.

“There isn’t a lot of money coming into Pickens County, and our resources are limited,” said Lambright. “Programs like SHARE need funding because they are precious resources for the homeless in Pickens County.”

Designation of the term “homeless” for the Point-In-Time count is based on stringent definitions outlined by HUD, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Some of the criteria used to determine homelessness are based on “an individual or family lacking a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”

In other words, the homeless are those people who are living in a place not meant for human habitation, in emergency shelter or in transitional housing; people who are losing their primary nighttime residence, which may include a motel or hotel or a doubled-up situation, within 14 days and lack resources or support networks to remain in housing; families with children or unaccompanied youth who are unstably housed and likely to continue in that state; people who are fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence, have no other residence, and lack the resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing.

During last year’s count, 81 homeless individuals were counted in Pickens County; however, Lambright believes the number is much higher.

“There are not as many resources in Pickens County as there are in other counties like Anderson or Greenville,” he said. “We need to prove that we have as many as 81 homeless or more to obtain funding. Funding risks being cut for the state if our numbers in all of South Carolian are down.”

Homeless persons use a variety of public systems in inefficient and costly ways. While it may not be obvious, the chronically homeless create significant costs to local service programs.
According to Lambright, a recent cost study on homelessness found that placing four chronically homeless persons into permanent supportive housing saves more than $80,000 a year. An accurate count means not only providing help for the less fortunate but significant savings for city governments and taxpayers.

The McKinney-Vento coordinator for the School District of Pickens County, Ron Wilson, provided the United Way with reports from 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. The numbers are staggering.

In 2008-2009, the school district identified 682 enrolled students as homeless, and served 586. Within one school year, the number more than doubled. In 2009-2010, the school district identified 1,356 enrolled students as homeless and served 777. When evaluating the reports, it was interesting to note that grades K5-5th were the bulk of homeless students for both years.

In 2011 -2012, SDPC identified 1,449 homeless students, which does not include other family members in this number.
Unfortunately, these numbers cannot be utilized for the PIT homeless count because they do not necessarily meet HUD’s definition for homelessness.

While there might not be cardboard communities, visible to the naked eye, erected throughout Pickens County, it does not mean that homelessness is not a problem here. On the contrary, the problem is more widespread than most people are aware, and it is something agencies like the United Way are diligently attempting to address.

Gathering accurate numbers during the PIT homeless count is paramount.

The United Way needs volunteers to perform the count throughout different areas in the county. An information and training session will take place Jan. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the Carr Center in West End Hall, located at 201 S. 5th Street in Easley. Pre-registration is requested.

Lambright is also collecting cash donations and food vouchers so that when homeless families are found and counted, they can be provided a meal and alternative lodging.

“When we identify someone as homeless, we don’t just want to count them. We want to be able to give them a list of resources and some items that will be useful,” said Lambright. “One sorority from Clemson is packing small hygiene kits, and we are asking for donations of gift cards to fast food restaurants so they can get something to eat at least. We want to ask them what we can do to help them.”

For more information on the Point-in-Time homeless count or to volunteer for participation in the county, contact Steven Lambright via the United Way of Pickens County by calling (864) 850.7094 (ext. 108) or emailing .
Donations of money or food gift cards can be dropped off at the United Way offices located in Easley’s West End Hall at 201 S. 5th Street.