Area homeless survey could help secure grant funding, aid

Posted: January 31, 2014

The Winchester Star

ABOVE: Dale Marchant, 21, sits inside the nonprofit group Congregational-Community Action Project building on North Kent Street on Thursday afternoon. Marchant is homeless and he and others use the facility as a place to stay warm during the day. BELOW: Hats and socks are shown at a Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter (WATTS) in 2012. Homeless Coalition of the Northern Shenandoah Valley volunteers conducted a count at a WATTS shelter Thursday to try and estimate the local homeless population. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Jeff Burke, of Front Royal, has taken in a homeless man from Winchester to live in his home. Burke is shown standing in front of the Congregational-Community Action Project (C-CAP) building on South Kent Street on Thursday. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — A survey of the area’s homeless population could help secure grant funding and other assistance for those individuals.

About 10 volunteers with the Homeless Coalition of the Northern Shenandoah Valley conducted a Point-in-Time count Thursday night at the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter (WATTS). The survey is a snapshot of the current homeless population, according to Oscar Cerrito-Mendoza, the point of contact for Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties.

“What we do is we count the sheltered and unsheltered individuals,” he said Thursday.

“The shelter individuals are counted by the shelters and we go to soup kitchens and other places where they might have temporary shelter.”

Cerrito-Mendoza said he isn’t sure how many homeless people were determined to be in the area in last year’s count.

The volunteers gave homeless persons a six-page survey to fill out with information that included where they slept the night before, how long they have been homeless, demographic information, health information — if they have chronic illnesses, physical or mental health issues or substance-abuse problems — according to Cerrito-Mendoza.

“We have to know our population to be able to submit for grant funding [and other aid],” he said. “Homelessness in our area is something people don’t think about, [but] it’s an issue we need to tackle and pay attention to. People need homes to survive.”

The Point-in-Time results must be turned in to the Homeless Coalition by next week.

Fran Ricketts, director of the Winchester-based nonprofit group Congregational-Community Action Project (C-CAP), said Thursday that she doesn’t believe the count is an effective way to gain information about the homeless population.

Ricketts estimated there are at least 800 homeless persons in the area and said that the Point-in-Time counts can underplay the number of people without homes.

Employment opportunities and shelter are two of the main needs for the area’s homeless, she said.

“We need more shelters that can take in families,” she said. “What do we do with a mom and dad and three children? ... We have people in tents trying to survive because there’s no place to go. We need more shelter for families and just shelter in general.”

Neither Winchester nor Frederick County operates or maintains temporary or permanent homeless shelters.

Dale Marchant, 21, said Thursday that he’s been homeless in Winchester for the last year. He typically goes to C-CAP or the Handley Regional Library during winter days to stay warm and then to the WATTS program at night.

“[People say] there is no homeless problem in Winchester, but if they got out more often they would see that there is a problem in Winchester,” he said. “We’ve got homeless people.”

Marchant added that he would like to see the city build or provide a shelter — at least during the winter — so that he and others wouldn’t be exposed to the elements.

Jeff Burke, 29, of Front Royal, took in a homeless man from Winchester in mid-summer and has let him stay with him and his family since so he can try to get back on his feet. He also said the area needs a shelter to accommodate the homeless, especially in winter.

“They’ve got to leave the shelters [in the mornings] and it’s dead cold,” Burke said. “They should definitely build a very big — like a warehouse-style facility — and just put beds in it. That’s it, that’s all they need ... just beds and heat.”

Results from the Point-in-Time count are expected to be available within the next couple of months, according to Cerrito-Mendoza.

— Contact Matt Armstrong at marmstrong@winchesterstar.com