Homelessness dropping in ChesCo

Chester County is claiming success in getting more homeless people into permanent housing. The latest Point in Time count by the Chester County Department of Community Development shows a decrease in homelessness of 23 percent.

The count, mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was taken in the late evening on Jan. 26, to the early morning hours of Jan. 27. It showed, a press released said, that 402 people were experiencing homelessness, meaning they were living in a temporary shelter or sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation such as a car, park, abandoned building, bus station or camping ground.

The previous survey in January 2020, tallied 522 people as homeless in the county.

While the Point in Time data shows only a snapshot of homelessness in the county, the count serves as a tool for measuring the depth of the problem and shows the need for more affordable housing.

“The results of this year’s Point in Time count are extremely encouraging and a direct result of the dedicated work by the Chester County Partnership to End Homelessness,” said County Commissioners’ Chair Marian Moskowitz. “At the same time, we must recognize in a county with our means, having 400 people still homeless is tragic and entirely too many. A lot of work remains to be done, and I believe we have shown our commitment to doing it.”

Children account for nearly one-fourth of the 402 people experiencing homelessness while people of color make up almost half of the total.

“The fact that 100 children in our county remain homeless is heartbreaking. Not having a stable home places them at a severe disadvantage at the earliest points in their lives,” said County Commissioner Josh Maxwell. “Fortunately, we have taken actions to prevent these numbers from increasing, such as appointing street outreach coordinators, establishing the 211 call system, and developing an eviction prevention court program, which helps to keep families in their homes.”

Chester County’s Street Outreach Coordinators work on the front lines, building relationships as they conduct homeless verification for people living in places not meant for human habitation, or who are in a shelter, transitional housing, or are exiting a place where they may temporarily reside.

Chester County’s Eviction Prevention Court, a program developed with Friends Association for Care & Protection of Children, the Chester County Clerk of Courts Office and Chester County Courts, provides a combination of legal representation, financial assistance and social services for individuals or families facing eviction.  It currently operates in district courts in Downingtown, Coatesville, South Coatesville, and Valley Township.

For perspective on how progress has accelerated, during the four-year period from 2017 to 2020, the homeless count decreased by only 48 people, from 570 to 522. This latest report shows a decrease of 120 people over the last two years.

“It is reassuring to see the correlation between the steps the County has taken and the results,” said Commissioner Michelle Kichline.

“But we also know that the pandemic impacted practices and procedures that needed to be changed to support those experiencing homelessness, or who were on the verge of homelessness,” she added.

Using federal funds, the County created the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), making money available for low-income households unable to pay rent or utilities.

Chester County’s Partnership to End Homelessness, the only community-based collaborative, brings together community agencies, local government, private and public organizations, nonprofits, foundations, faith communities, and people who have experienced homelessness.

Rob Henry, Chester County Partnership to End Homelessness’ administrator, said the collaborative’s commitment to ending and preventing homelessness is stronger than ever.

“Programs like ERAP certainly helped to keep people who are renting, and who need help with utilities, in their homes, which was crucial throughout the pandemic.

“Our mission is to ensure that homelessness is a rare, brief, and one-time-only experience for any resident of Chester County,” he said. “We know the formula. We see that it is working. And we hope that every resident of Chester County is proud of their contribution to bring dignity and compassion to our neighbors who need it most.”

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