Those who work with the homeless in Butler County say that’s not what they’re seeing, adding that the numbers may be greater than estimated due to the lack of affordable housing.
“Some people who are addicted have no path and choose their vice over housing,” said Brandy Slavens of Access Counseling Services in Middletown.
Hamilton residents in the Lindenwald expressed concerns last summer about people they said were camping in at least two areas. City officials cleared the area to discourage the homeless from living in the area.
In Middletown, then-police Chief Rodney Muterspaw sparked discussions when he wrote a Facebook post that said other cities were transporting their homeless into Middletown. Multiple business owners spoke at city council meetings about their concerns in the days and weeks following the post.
Nationally, the estimated number of people experiencing long-term, chronic homelessness increased 8.5 percent between 2018 and 2019. This increase was concentrated on the West Coast, with the largest increases in California.
Homelessness among veterans and families with children continued to fall in 2019. The number of homeless veterans declined by 2.1 percent and homelessness among families fell 4.8 percent in 2019.
Homelessness among veterans is half of what was reported in 2010, the HUD report said. The homelessness rate for families with children is down more than 32 percent since 2010.
Kathy Becker, of Access Counseling, has spent 40 years working with Butler County’s homeless population, including in courts and out with police. Becker estimates there are 3,300 homeless people in Butler County.
Next week, she will be working with volunteers to get a head count of the homeless to gather information for HUD for the annual estimate.
“The count has been hard to accomplish because there are not enough volunteers to check every place as well as wooded areas and farm land,” she said. “People have been found on park benches and more people are living in their cars.”
Becker said there are some stores that allow people to sleep in their cars in the parking lot. She said there are more older people who have become homeless, and the lack of affordable housing and full shelters leads some of the homeless to break into vacant structures.
“It’s a vicious cycle for the homeless,” she said.
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“I’m hoping this … count will reflect more of the diversity of the homeless in Butler County. It helps us focus on where the need is and to be more proactive.”
HUD’s national estimate of people experiencing homelessness is based on data reported by approximately 3,000 cities and counties across the nation. Every year on a single night in January, planning agencies called “Continuums of Care,” along with tens of thousands of volunteers, count single people and families living in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs and on the street.
Becker also questions why the federal government does this annual count during the worst winter weather and wonders if it reflects an accurate count.
Middletown City Council is expected to discuss the issue later this month or in February in a work session or at its annual council retreat, according to Acting City Manager Susan Cohen. Council discussed it in a work session last January, but no action followed until the issues cropped up last fall prior to the November elections.
Reporter Bonnie Meibers contributed to this report.