Outreach groups keep track of Summit County's increasing homeless population through annual survey
The sun shone down on the rushing Little Cuyahoga River Tuesday morning, as social worker Tim Edgar trekked through the snow to a homeless encampment located by a riverbank.
Edgar, who has helped Akron’s unhoused populations for more than 20 years, carefully stepped over fallen tree branches and icy patches to call out to the individual staying there.
“Hey, it’s Tim. How you doing?” he said. “Do you need anything, blankets, or anything?”
Edgar was helping conduct Summit County’s annual Point-in-Time (PIT) Count, in which outreach groups, including Community Support Services (CSS) where Edgar works, go out to encampments and keep track of how many people are staying there.
Edgar encouraged the individual to visit CSS, which offers services such as laundry and showers.
“We’ll stop by in a couple weeks, alright?” Edgar added. “Come back and see us.”
Edgar will input the man’s information into an online survey that helps track where people are seeking shelter, and how the outreach groups can best target their resources.
“We kind of get an idea of who exactly is in the community, so we as a group can make better plans on – you know, who to target, who needs the most help,” Edgar said. “Then, all the information gets funneled up to [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] which ideally follows up with dollars.”
For example, one of the questions asked during the PIT Count is whether an individual has experienced mental health challenges or addiction, because there are targeted federal funds available to help, Edgar said.
Summit County Continuum of Care, the designated organization that provides resources and funding to various homeless outreach groups in the area, is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to conduct PIT Counts. Other Continuum of Cares across the state and nationwide are also conducting PIT Counts this week.
Michael Harhager, supervisor of homeless services at CSS, said employees and volunteers frequently visit the encampments, so they are already familiar with the locations and who stays there ahead of the official PIT Count.
Still, the PIT Count day gives them another opportunity to encourage folks to take advantage of resources in the community, Harhager said.
“Hopefully, open the door to seeing what services they’re already connected to, and if they’re not, hopefully being able to follow up with them in future engagements,” Harhager said.
The CSS workers also offer individuals blankets, bus passes and even fast food gift cards – but the ultimate goal, Harhager added, is to encourage them to come to CSS’s office and get on the path to housing.
CSS workers and case managers frequently help individuals get off the streets, he said.
“They may have entered into a shelter, and then they’re able to secure a job and get back into their apartment or maybe resolve the situation they were in,” he said.
Homelessness seems to be ticking up locally, as well as nationwide, over the past few years, possibly due to the economy and the need for more affordable housing, Harhager said.
Last year’s count found 441 individuals experiencing homelessness in the county, up from 394 in 2021, he said. Hundreds were staying in shelters and just over 50 were identified on the streets.
The vast majority of unhoused individuals are in Akron and Barberton, Edgar said.
This year’s count won’t be finalized for some time.