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Annual homeless count designed to link people to services

William Gillespie (left) SharrLiggins (right) Continuum Care/Regional Planning Council leave extrbags food hygience items with Lillian Beasley Sojourner Truth special

William Gillespie (left) and Sharron Liggins (right) of the Continuum of Care/Regional Planning Council leave extra bags of food and hygience items with Lillian Beasley, Sojourner Truth special projects and events coordinator, on a stop at Sojourner Truth House during the annual Point-in-Time homeless count in Gary, Ind. Wednesday January 30, 2013. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 2, 2013 11:39AM



Walking down Broadway in Gary’s Glen Park neighborhood, the signs of homelessness may not be immediately apparent, but they’re visible if you peer just beneath the surface.

Continuum of Care Network of Northwest Indiana executive director Sharron Liggins looks into a broken window of a shuttered business and points out a cart filled with someone’s belongings, including cans they can redeem for money and a bag of cereal. Opening up the door, it’s easy to pick up the smell of urine.

“This is the world,” Liggins said.

Liggins and dozens of other volunteers pounded the pavement across Gary, Hammond and East Chicago on Wednesday in an effort to get an accurate count of the region’s homeless population.

In Gary, Liggins and program director William Gillespie stopped by shelters, the Adam Benjamin Metro Center, The Methodist Hospitals Northlake’s emergency room, library branches, soup kitchens, and abandoned houses — all to identify homeless people and link them with shelters and other supportive services.

The Point-in-Time homeless count is an annual census — mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — that takes place over a 24-hour period in late January. The count helps determine how much money local agencies receive for homeless services. Recently, the federal government has placed a lot of emphasis on reducing the number of homeless veterans, and Lake County’s homeless veterans count dropped by more than half — from 62 to 23 — in 2012.

“Permanent supportive housing is the goal and reducing these numbers,” Liggins said, noting that two new permanent housing facilities are set to break ground in Gary in 2013.

Time of day makes a difference

The 42 volunteers were up before dawn Wednesday to start the count, but Liggins said different locations vary their population throughout the day. No homeless people were found in the emergency room around midday, but when nightfall hits, Gillespie said, it becomes almost a de facto warming center. The same is true of police stations and the bus shelter.

At men’s shelter Brother’s Keeper, several men were in the middle of a life skills class. Gary resident David Rice, who has been in the program for 60 days, appreciates the variety of services available, including drug and alcohol rehabilitation and mental health services.

“They demand that you work on yourself,” Rice said. “I went to jail for maintaining a common nuisance, and I had no place to go when I got out. Being a disabled veteran, it makes it harder to find a job. There needs to be more help for veterans and there just isn’t enough.”

The Ark Shelter for Women and Children houses 15 families in its Gary facility, and shelter director Renitta Stout said it serves as a transitional facility to get families back on their feet.

“Now, the state is trying to reduce shelter stays because the more quickly they are housed, the more success they have,” she said.

Glen Park seeing many homeless

In several cases, Liggins and Gillespie approached and spoke to people who admitted they were homeless, but they didn’t want to fill out the survey or receive a flier about available services. As a result, they can’t be counted in the census, but volunteers still handed them bags laden with food and hygeine products donated by the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana and NIPSCO.

Liggins said the Glen Park neighborhood is a particularly ripe area for finding homeless, due to the large number of abandoned homes and storefronts. Gillespie said convenience stores in the area will trade a single cigarette or diaper in return for a homeless person’s labor.

“Gas stations are fertile ground for Gary’s day labor,” Gillespie said.

Starting around 6 p.m., Liggins and Gillespie planned on riding along with Gary police in an unmarked van. Gillespie said police clue them into new locations where the homeless may be residing. One year, volunteers couldn’t find a handful of persistently homeless men who typically resided on 13th Avenue. In talking to police, Gillespie said an owner of a used hotel furniture store was charging homeless people $10 a night to sleep in his storeroom, and the men were spending time there.



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