OXFORD -- Advocates for overcoming homelessness in Chester County continue to tackle their task, although the solutions are often elusive.
On July 16, workers and volunteers who serve the homeless gathered in Oxford to discuss their progress.
Michael Hackman, administrator for the Decade To Doorways program of the Chester County Department of Community Development, chaired the event, although others had plenty to contribute concerning the efforts they have made.
Decade to Doorways was developed in 2011 to maximize current resources with the goal of preventing and ending homelessness in the county within 10 years.
He introduced his talk by saying that there is more than one definition or category of homelessness, and all must be addressed. They include subsistence individuals who are just on the street, evicted people whose houses were foreclosed or who didn’t pay their rent, youth who ran away from home and are “couch surfing,” and victims of domestic violence who often leave home and bring their children.
Hackman said there are 10 shelters, 11 transitional housing facilities and eight rapid rehousing facilities in the county, but there are many more people in need who must served.
Heather Charboneau, program director of Connect Points of Family Service of Chester County, recounted some of the difficulties and bureaucratic limitations of housing the homeless.
She said that there is a 24-hour help line for homeless who need an assessment, but last year they had 1,300 requests for emergency shelter.
She added that 23 percent of those people are not from Chester County, and they were referred back to their county of origin.
Melanie Wheeler , executive director of Kennett Area Community Service, said the problem of homelessness is especially difficult in Chester County because the only facility is the small His Mission in Kennett Square.
“We know southern Chester County has not tackled this issue,” she siad, adding that the number of homeless in Kennett School District increased from 96 to 167 last year and from 32 to 46 in the Oxford school district.
She said her agency provides rental assistance, clothing and the food cupboard. She added that big families are difficult to place.
She commented on the January Chester County homeless count that involved volunteers going out on one of the coldest nights of the year and counting people who were unsheltered.
“The numbers are deceptive. Most people find someplace to go,” she said.
Bill Carl, a volunteer with a program call Family Promise, said he is involved in a program that houses two or three families at a time (maximum 14 people). His group is contacting churches to have them commit to housing 14 people overnight for a week four times a year. The homeless would stay in the church for a week at night, and then go to a homeless center that has a post office, bus service and locker during the day. After the week is up, the families would move on to another church for night stays.
He said the Church of the Advent in Kennett Square is leading the effort on this, and the daytime locations have not be built or established. However, the plan so far has been successful for a small number of people.
At the conclusion of the meeting, one member in the audience asked how many people live in Chester County. When he was told it was half a million, he said, “With that number, we can solve homelessness.”