On Jan. 25, I took to the streets in St. Peters to look for homeless people.
It was my first year to participate in the Point-in-Time Homeless Count for St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren Counties.
Coordinated through the Department of Housing and Urban and Development (HUD), agencies such as the Community Council of St. Charles County agree to gather data and document homelessness throughout the United States. It is done the last week of January each year.
Since 2004, Dottie Kastigar, the Community Development Program Coordinator at the Community Council has collected information about both sheltered and unsheltered homeless people. She uses this data to track trends and provide information to apply for state and federal funding for resources to meet the needs of these people in our communities.
My partner for the count, Cindy Saparito, and I had a big section of St. Peters to cover. This was Cindy’s second year to be on a street team and I was grateful for her experience.
It was gray and rainy as we set out around 9 a.m. We stopped along well-travelled roads and stopped in convenience stores and fast-food restaurants. We talked to employees, and almost everyone had a story to tell.
“There’s a woman with a suitcase I see a lot,” one person said.
“This older man comes in, sits at a table with a supersize drink all day long,” another person said. This man was there in the restaurant at the time.
By 3:30 p.m. I had pages of notes that included descriptions of the homeless in the community. Many mentioned a woman who pulled a cart or suitcase.
When Saparito and I described all our conversations, Kastigar thought we might have identified one or two new individuals for the database.
When I got home, I was cold and tired. Not as cold as someone who might be living in a tent, below an overpass, or in a car.
On Feb. 9, volunteers gathered to debrief and look at photos taken on this year's count.
New encampments were discovered, including a small log "house." An ongoing location appeared to have enlarged to seven different rooms and more developed into a “home.”
Seeing dolls and other toys in these photos is disturbing. It is very hard to realize that a child could be living in these conditions.
Kastigar said she was still going through the numbers and didn't have the final totals. However she said it seems as though the number of chronically homeless people in St. Charles County is stable.
The number of people living "doubled-up" has skyrocketed and the number of families, in particular two-parent families, living in hotels has also increased.
“I’m still going through all the numbers,” Kastigar said. “So I don’t have final totals yet. But I can tell you what the trends appear to be.”
It is noteworthy that the doubled-up number is not included in the “official” homeless count. Kastigar keeps tabs on this number separately.
When one family moves into another family's home it puts a roof over their head. Yet if it was to be a temporary situation and a year later a house is still home to two families of five, those 10 people may find it an emotional and psychological struggle to continue to get along.
“It is a housing crisis,” said Kastigar.
A video titled “The Hidden Homeless” by Raymond Castile in available for viewing on the Community Council website. It documents a recent Point-In-Time Homeless Count and highlights the work of other agencies addressing the issue of homelessness.
I would encourage anyone able to participate in the Point-In-Time Homeless Count. I especially urge my colleagues in the faith community to participate.
We need to be out there, asking questions and learning from the business people, the police and from our own observation so we have understanding when the people come to our church doors asking for help.
The homeless population with the fewest resources available to them in St. Charles County is single homeless men.
If you want to help immediately, The St. Charles Homeless Alliance is sponsoring a Benefit Concert, with comedian Brother Dre’, jazz trio Three3Central and gospel recording artist Erica Reed on Saturday, February 18, 8-10 p.m. at St. Charles Presbyterian Church, next to Lindenwood University. Doors open at 7: 30 p.m. Admission is $15.
Helping the homeless is a matter of faith. That’s how I read it in Matthew 25: 35, 40 “. . . I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes . . .Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me.”
The me is Jesus. Jesus makes helping the homeless, the hungry and others personal.
I take that seriously.