RALEIGH COUNTY, WV (WOAY) – Every year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development require groups who help the homeless to conduct a “point-in-time” count, or a PIT Count, of the homeless in the area.
This year, last Wednesday night, a group of 12 volunteers with Raleigh County Community Action counted 3 homeless people in Raleigh County, all in Beckley.
Before you begin to question that number, Ron Cantley, the executive director of Raleigh County Community Action, breaks down the number, what it means and how they evaluate the homeless problem within the county.
“The Point-In-Time Count does not make any pretense of counting all the homeless people,” Cantley said. “What it does do is give you trend data from year to year because the methodology stays the same.”
That data goes on to the HUD Exchange, so that they can see national and state trends.
The methodology involves splitting up the groups into various areas throughout the county trying to get to every hole and crevice and go to places where they’ve found people before.
Michael Horn, the director of Pine Haven, the local homeless shelter, lead a team this year.
“Where have you been staying? How long have you been homeless? What is the leading cause to your homelessness? Have you ever heard of Pine Haven?” Horn said.
These are some of the questions they asked to get confirmation that the people are homeless. The volunteers only did this on Wednesday night for a four-hour time slot so the data is not exact, but like it says, at a point in time.
Raleigh County Community Action oversees the Pine Haven Shelter and that data is typically what they use to determine local trends.
“We served 646 people last year for 25,000 sheltered nights and 134 of them achieved transitional or permanent housing,” Cantley said. “In our housing department, we housed 119 people, so we know we’re touching lives and protecting people.”
In comparison to 2018, the shelter served almost 100 more during that but for fewer nights which means people are staying longer now.
On the perception side of things, Cantley says the people you might see walking the streets or sitting on benches aren’t always homeless. He says they could just be in some of the low income housing in Downtown Beckley.
“One that we see a lot in Downtown Beckley in my view are people with low income but subsistence income, minimal obligations and a lot of time on their hands,” he said. “The second category of homeless people I am seeing are people who are addicted or mentally ill.”
Often times, Cantley deals with people who do not want help because of the stronghold of addiction and mental illness. This was the case for the three they found on Wednesday night.
However, he says he understands the frustration of business owners and others downtown but wants their frustration not so much aimed at the people and organizations who are doing their best to help.
“I know people in the community are frustrated by this problem. I share their frustration. We have to be careful though. We can’t let our frustration with this problem cause us to lose who we are,” Cantley said. “And in that frustration, if we’re not careful, we’ll act out and we’ll lose our compassion, so regardless of how we feel, we’ve got to keep trying because we’re dealing with people.”
Cantley said the volunteers went into every “nook and cranny” of Raleigh County and found areas where it looked like people were living but where they had the most luck actually finding homeless people was indoors in places like convenient stores.