CHESTER COUNTY, PA — Chester County and the Decade to Doorways partnership found 522 people were without a home in Chester County on a given day last January. The number shows a 23 percent decrease over 5 years in the county. Case workers did much of the footwork.
The Chester County Department of Community Development and the Decade to Doorways partnership reported of those counted on Jan. 23, 2020, three-quarters were men and more than 100 fell between the ages of 55 and 61.
The Point in Time Count is a national effort mandated by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to determine the number of people experiencing homelessness. This includes individuals and families residing in emergency shelters and transitional living facilities, as well as unsheltered individuals on the street or in places not meant for sleeping.
The 23 percent decrease figure compares counts from the same day each year. In 2016, the Point in Time Count on Jan. 23 was 682.
Within Chester County, the Point in Time Count is one component of understanding homelessness, and is part of Decade to Doorways: The Community's Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in Chester County.
"Chester County’s well-established Decade to Doorways initiative allows us to do more than support the federal 'count' of those who are experiencing homelessness," said Pat Bokovitz, Director of Chester County’s Department of Community Development.
Bokovitz said, "Decade to Doorways has created a strong community-wide network of services – partners, if you like – that helps us to prevent and end homelessness by shifting from just managing homelessness, to diverting and quickly re-housing those who are experiencing homelessness."
Of the 522 individuals experiencing homelessness on the evening of Jan. 23, 2020, 499 men, women, and children were housed in emergency or transitional shelters. Of the 499 that were housed, 203 were veterans at the Coatesville Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus. The street count found 23 individuals who were unsheltered - sleeping in cars, tents or places not meant for human habitation. These individuals were found in some of Chester County’s urban centers, including Phoenixville, Malvern, West Chester, Kennett Square, Oxford and the city of Coatesville.
Chester County's approach to the Point in Time Count is both data-driven and strategic. The numbers provided to HUD are included in the Annual Homeless Assessment Report, which is presented to Congress every year.
"The teams who are out canvassing locations throughout Chester County on the designated Point in Time Count night have a background in case management and have experience working with people experiencing homelessness, so their observations and subsequent actions go beyond just collecting numbers," Bokovitz said.
The annual Point in Time Count takes place every year in January, s0 numbers were counted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bokovitz pointed out. Chester County’s Department of Community Development, through the Decade to Doorways network, has responded to the COVID-19 health crisis in different ways, to continue meeting the shelter needs of those experiencing homelessness during this challenging time.
DCD staff transitioned over 100 community members residing in emergency shelters and places not meant for human habitation into area hotels.
"Using hotels was deemed the best means of ensuring the health and safety of our most vulnerable community members," said Bokovitz.
"In addition to the immediate move from emergency shelters to hotels, the Decade to Doorways partnership pulled together a group of community agencies and housing providers to connect residents with housing resources and other services to meet their specific, and often complex needs," added Bokovitz.
Since the start of the pandemic in mid-March, over 50 households have taken part in a housing program that has resulted in their being placed in permanent housing or currently receiving help looking for a permanent home.
To support this drive to place individuals and families in permanent housing, the Housing Authority of Chester County (HACC) has increased payment standards across Chester County, as well as sign-on bonuses for new and existing landlords to partner with HACC, and rental prevention funds.
"Homelessness is a community issue and will only end by a community response," Bokovitz said.
COVID-19 affects all areas and individuals in Chester County, especially those who are homeless or housing insecure. Bokovitz said, "We continue to seek landlords with available housing to reach out to the Housing Authority of Chester County to be part of this community response to prevent and end homelessness."
Landlords can contact the Housing Authority of Chester County by calling 610-436-9200 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.