COUNTY – Local organizations are working together to help address housing issues.

Last week the August Point-In-Time (PIT) Count was conducted by the Local Housing Options Team (L-HOT), a subcommittee of the Wayne County Human Services Quality Council.

Volunteers spread out throughout the county to find individuals who are homeless in order to obtain statistical information to be entered into a federal database, which prioritizes funding for housing related money.

Wayne County Human Services is part of the Pennsylvania Eastern Continuum of Care Collaborative.

Within that collaborative there are local Rural Homeless Advisory Boards (RHAB).

Wayne County is part of the Pocono RHAB.

This coalition hopes to identify local housing needs, to expand housing options, and find long term solutions to housing and homelessness related issues.

“These organizations are working to address local housing issues such as housing development,” said Cindy Matthews, Wayne County Human Services L-HOT sub-committee member. “For example, some seniors can no longer maintain big homesteads anymore.

“There's very little rental property available. Those that are aren't accessible or conducive to senior citizens.”

A look at the numbers

On a national level, there are approximately 21 homeless individuals per 10,000 in the general population.

With Wayne County’s population hovering around 53,000 that equates to about 59 people.

During the August PIT, Matthews said they found eight individuals, seven males and one female.

“It's a very specific population,” she said. “It's [the count] people who are unsheltered and spend a night in a place that's not suitable for human habitation.”

Matthews added some were using their vehicles or makeshift shanty such as a tarp. Others were found in tents, bridges and railroad trusses.

Matthews said on a national scale, Housing and Urban Development requires counties to do a PIT homeless count in January.

“We didn't have to do one in the summer, but we wanted to gather information on what our housing needs are in Wayne County,” she stated. “We aren't just focused on homelessness. It's about finding affordable, accessible housing for specific populations such as senior citizens and the disabled.”

The count has increased since it was last conducted. In January three were found in the county.

Matthews said what's interesting is that Wayne County has an 80 percent owner occupancy rate, which means 80 percent of homes in the county are occupied by the owner.

“What that means is that 20 percent of housing is what's left of available housing,” she explained. “Some are second homes so there may not be a lot of property available. The rent is also a little higher around here.

“Most people use 35 percent or more of their household income for housing. There are a lot of times where they may have issues where someone's car breaks or they get sick.

“Some type of life's curve balls come down the pike and put people in vulnerable situations.”

Finding solutions

Matthews added doing the count helps gather data so they can apply for different grants to help fix the housing issues.

She also said there was a lot of phone outreach to find people for the count.

“We called campgrounds and churches asking if they knew of any people,” Matthews said.

She said another thing they found was often times families may camp in the summer to cut down on costs and save money for the winter.

“Camping can be very healthy and safe sometimes,” Matthews stated, “It's a favorite activity for a lot of families, but some are doing it in order to save money.”

The county has received some funds in the past to solve housing issues and have again applied for an emergency solutions grant.

“We are trying to work on different issues,” Matthews said. “This is just one way we gather data to help out.”