Volunteers find homeless people braving the bitter cold during annual count

Milford. The Point in Time Unsheltered Homeless Count was led this year by Tamara Chant, taking over from the Pike County Hands of Hope. Chant, who oversees the Port Jervis Warming Station, said Pike County may have its own warming center next year, and maybe even its own homeless shelter as some point in the future. The county commissioners recently embarked on a housing study to identify community needs.

30 Jan 2020 | 04:05

Leaders and volunteers said several times they didn't think they'd find anyone. The homeless look like us and are hard to find, they said.

They met for the annual Point in Time (PIT) Unsheltered Homeless Count, held this year on the night of Jan. 22. At Manse House in Milford, next to the Presbyterian Church, Liz Steen trained volunteers both on their phones and, for the less digitally oriented, on paper.

Then the leaders and volunteers alike left to cover the county. They went to places homeless people were found in previous PIT counts.

Tamara Chant was in charge this year. Larisa Yusko with the Pike County Local Housing Option Team was on hand to search and help with paperwork.

Chant, Steen, and Yusko teamed up with Laurence Commisso, a retired ranger with 35 years in the National Park Service. Commisso reviewed the safety factors involved in approaching and helping the homeless. Hands of Hope helped with the count in past years, and now the new team took up the challenge.

Chant, Steen, and Yusko teamed up with Laurence Commisso, a retired ranger with 35 years in the National Park Service. Commisso reviewed the safety factors involved in approaching and helping the homeless. Hands of Hope helped with the count in past years, and now the new team took up the challenge.

Chant and her Point in Time team worked diligently to prepare volunteers for the search.

Among the volunteers was Fred McNeely, a member of the board at Pike County Hands of Hope, which provides food, clothing, and shelter to homeless people in the community. The mercury had dropped to 23 degrees: McNeely said the count always seems to fall on a bitterly cold night. This was his fourth PIT count, and he'd never found anyone in past years, he said.

This year the volunteers found three homeless people. The Courier cannot disclose any information about who they are or where they were found. Volunteers were equipped with sleeping bags, sacks of food, water, and other supplies to give out to the people they found. These life-saving supplies were prepared by the Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania Troop #52735. These Ambassador-level Scouts attend Delaware Valley High School.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sets the rules for the Point in Time Unsheltered Homeless Count and gives each eligible county money to help the homeless.

The following morning at the Milford Methodist Church, Steen met everyone who could come in for final count reports. The volunteers turned in extra sleeping bags. Bagels, muffins, and coffee were available for all.

Steen said Diana T. Myers, a consultant with Pennsylvania's Department of Community and Economic Development, receives the final data feed from the local PIT count.

Warming station planned

Pike County does not currently have any place where the homeless can get in out of the elements. Chant oversees the Port Jervis Warming Station and served for a time as the director of the now-closed Safe Haven of Pike County, which, before VIP took over, served victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse locally. Chant said Pike County might have its own warming center next year, and may even have its own homeless shelter at some point in the future.

Pike County Commissioner Matthew Osterberg said he is keeping track of local needs.

"We have begun a housing study to identify the needs for the community," he said in an emailed statement. "We met last week for our kick off meeting with Diana T. Myers and associates to begin the process. More to come as we move forward."

The sheltered homeless count

Pike County also has a sheltered homeless count, which includes those who are a step away from total unsheltered homelessness. These people are housed in a variety of places. This count fluctuates, usually falling somewhere in the teens.

Wayne County provides housing for sheltered homeless people from Pike County. The Port Jervis Warming Station, located at St. Peter's Lutheran Church, provides overnight shelter, with volunteers on duty to watch over those sleeping. Both men and women are served there; a divider separates sections within the church.

Free health services

Tammy DeLeo, RN, a community health nurse with the state, was at the Milford Methodist Church during the PIT count to give health counseling and free Hepatitis A shots to anyone who came in.

She provides free health services at the Pike County State Health Center, 10 Buist Road, Suit 401, in Milford, from 9 a.m. to noon on the first Wednesday of every month. These services include vaccinations and STD/HIV testing for anyone who is uninsured or underinsured. Call her at 570-296-6512.

Another resource is Eastern Pennsylvania Continuums of Care, under the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania. Its mission include outreach and assessment; providing emergency shelter, transitional housing, and permanent housing; and support services to prevent homelessness.

According to its website (pennsylvaniacoc.org), Eastern Pennsylvania Continuums of Care awarded $494,287 in new projects for the 33 counties it encompasses, plus $24,714 in flexible administrative funding, to be distributed at the discretion of the governing board, for a total of $519,000. Pocono Mountains United Way / RHAB Homeless Prevention/Diversion received $100,000, but no funds are listed for Pike County.

Disbursements by the Eastern Pennsylvania Continuums of Care
Awarded $494,287 in new projects in 33 counties, plus $24,714 in flexible administrative funding to be distributed at the discretion of the governing board, for a total of $519,000
Valley Youth House Committee/The Synergy Project, Allentown – $70,000
Clinton County Housing Coalition/Eastern Pennsylvania Continuums of Care Coordinator – $30,000
Pocono Mountains United Way/RHAB Homeless Prevention/Diversion – $100,000
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence/Domestic Violence Housing First Pilot – $94,737
Lehigh Valley Regional Advisory Board/Lehigh Conference of Churches/Diversion/Prevention Program – $125,000
PA Interfaith Community Programs/Homeless Diversion Adams County – $74,550
Source: Posted on pennsylvaniacoc.org/category/easterncoc