Counting the homeless in Mason County

By Erin Perkins -

MASON COUNTY — It was reported last year during a Point in Time (PIT) count that a half million individuals were unsheltered/homeless in the U.S., a portion of the these individuals were from Mason County.

John Machir, housing director of the Mason County Homeless Shelter and Simms Housing, shared during the last week of January, Mason County participates in a PIT count to help collect data regarding the number and characteristics of both sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals residing within a specific geographical area on a given night.

He commented the past PIT counts in Mason County have been “poorly organized, have lacked publicity in the run-up to the count, and have generally been conducted by homeless services staff without assistance from individuals in the local community. The result has been largely inaccurate data and actual totals of homeless individuals who reside within Mason County.”

Machir along with the fellow members of the advisory council for the homeless shelter and Simms Housing are pushing for better more accurate results this year and the years to come. The PIT count is critical, so much so the advisory council began planning for this initiative in August as Mason County is heavily rural and covers an area of some 445 square miles.

Machir said, “It is not possible for just eight homeless service providers to canvas the length and breadth of the this county, nor is it possible to extrapolate data accurately from a small sample in a county whose communities are so diverse.”

All residents of the homeless shelter and Simms Housing will be included in the sheltered count. Along with Mason County, the homeless shelter provides housing for individuals from Meigs, Gallia, and Jackson Counties in Ohio; however, this count will only be measuring the homeless/unsheltered in Mason County.

The Mason County Homeless Shelter is the only homeless shelter within 41 miles. It has 12 temporary beds and five permanent beds. A temporary stay in the homeless shelter is 90 days.

For this year, the advisory council is seeking out a minimum of 64 volunteers. The recommended volunteers may come from volunteer fire departments, DOH workers, AEP and other utility workers, guidance counselors in schools, ministers and congregations, social workers, DHHR workers, home health workers, or the health care system, said Machir. The volunteers must be at least 18 years of age and will need to represent a cross-sampling of each of the following communities in Mason County: Glenwood/Ashton/Upland; Apple Grove/Gallipolis Ferry; Henderson/Southside; Kingtown to Flatrock; Point Pleasant; Mason/Clifton/West Columbia; New Haven/Letart; Leon.

All homeless services staff and volunteers will receive training on how to administer the PIT count survey form, safety during the PIT count, and procedures for the collection of completed surveys upon conclusion of the PIT count. Also, volunteers will sign an indemnity waiver for their participation in the PIT Count.

On the evening of the count, the volunteers will be organized in teams of no less than three individuals to provide for safety during the count.

Machir said,”The groups will be assigned specific locations to canvas to avoid duplicate counts of individuals as much as possible. Surveyors will offer incentive items to homeless individuals that they encounter and request that they complete the PIT count survey form. Surveyors will count people who are staying in public or private places not designated for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including cars, parks, abandoned buildings, barns, sheds, ball field dugouts, tents, along rivers, railroad tracks, etc. Surveyors will complete the form per their training and check the documents for completeness and accuracy.”

Trinity United Methodist Church has provided the advisory council with 23 sleeping bags to be handed out during the count.

The incentive items for the count can be donated from local businesses such as gift cards or large items. Smaller items, on the other hand, will be collected through donation at the Mason County Homeless Shelter and at three “Preparing for the PIT” collection events at local high school football games at Hannan Junior/Senior High School, Wahama Junior/Senior High School, and Point Pleasant Junior/ Senior High School.

The first collection will be at the Hannan vs. Buffalo game on Friday, Oct. 19 held at Hannan. There will be a large banner that says “Preparing for the PIT” to indicate where donations are being taken. Donations can be items such as hats, gloves, scarves, sweaters, blankets, sleeping bags, coats, and jackets to name a few.

Machir explained the U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) requires Continuum’s of Care (CoC) to conduct a count annually to collect data to inform programs on the dimensions of homelessness within their community as well as to track progress on ending homelessness. Data from the counts are reported annually to the United States Congress to inform policy decisions related to homelessness and homeless services.

The advisory council will also be receiving assistance from Doug Sturgeon, attendance director and McKinney-Vento Liaison at the Mason County Board of Education, in assembling a youth advisory council to assist with the planning of magnet events organized to assist in counting unsheltered youth in Mason County.

Those who are interested in being a volunteer can contact the homeless shelter and their name will be taken down. Further information will be provided to the volunteers prior to the count.

More on the magnet events will appear in an upcoming edition of the Point Pleasant Register.

By Erin Perkins

Erin Perkins is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, extension 1992.

Erin Perkins is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, extension 1992.