COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Snow, freezing rain or shine Wednesday, around 130 volunteers will use much of the day to size the population of people who are homeless in Franklin County.
A point-in-time census of communities’ homeless populations — conducted during the last 10 days of January — is required at least once every two years by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to receive federal funding for certain programs. In Columbus, the Community Shelter Board fronts an annual effort, in partnership with about 20 organizations.
The late January timing is intentional for a number of reasons, even if it might coincide with inclement weather, Community Shelter Board President and CEO Shannon Isom said.
“It is the coldest month of the year, and if our communities, people in our communities, populations are outside during that time, it gives us not only a good gauge of the resources that we need to have within each community, but it also allows us to pivot every year,” Isom said.
Whether they are in lots or meal distribution sites or warming centers, volunteers will be dispersed throughout the community from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. to conduct the tally.
Isom, who is new to the role and the Community Shelter Board, will participate in the Columbus point-in-time count for the first time — although as the former CEO of the Dayton YWCA, she assisted with Montgomery County’s count before.
“For all communities within the state of Ohio, all counties within the state of Ohio, we are all pausing at the same time to do this count, to be very focused and diligent on ensuring that we are assessing the resources and the needs of the homeless,” she said.
In January 2022, volunteers tallied close to 2,000 people in central Ohio: 1,426 who were sheltered, 342 who were unsheltered, and 144 who were in transitional housing, according to a Community Shelter Board news release. Homeless families increased by 19% year-over-year, according to Isom.
Nationwide, homelessness rose 0.3% from 2020 to 2022, according to HUD data. Analysis suggests that was partly exacerbated by pandemic strains, but homeless populations were growing even prior to March 2020.
Isom said that although Columbus is in line with national trends, it is starting to track closer with larger metro areas.
“We have just a booming business industry, a growing, growing population. We are all excited about that,” Isom said. “You can imagine, with strong indicators in business and industry growth, strong indicators in population growth, that that delta becomes even larger when you are marginalized or don’t have resources.”
Some of it also stems from a shortage of housing, and affordable housing, under construction within central Ohio, she said.
A fuller picture of Wednesday’s count will be released later in 2023 after the data has been evaluated and assessed.