COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Central Ohio is using numbers to tackle homelessness. Wednesday, the Community Shelter Board led an annual count of Columbus and Franklin County’s homeless population.
Starting at 4 a.m., more than 130 trained volunteers canvassed shelters, meal sites, known encampments and parking lots to find people without stable housing. The point-in-time counts are used to better understand the community’s needs, determine funding and inform strategies to help.
“At the end of the day, we’ll be really successful today if all the people we meet and interact with we can connect with meaningful services to help them find a place to call home,” explained Sara Loken, the community relations director for Community Shelter Board.
The group was working with individuals at the Columbus Dream Center during a lunchtime meal distribution
Wednesday. Nicole Collins was among the dozens of people receiving meals and talking with staff.
“I rely on these people,” Collins said. “I know they have Christ in their hearts.”
Collins has been staying in shelters and crashing on friends’ couches periodically over the past year while she’s struggled to find stable housing.
“I’m a single mother. I’ve been battered, beaten, disgraced. At the same time, I’ve still got my head up high,” she explained.
She willingly shared her story with the Community Shelter Board, but Loken said others are less forthcoming.
Volunteers are trained to build rapport with the individuals they’re serving, sparking a conversation to coax details and try to connect them with the proper services.
Wednesday’s unseasonable weather worked in the group’s favor, encouraging people who may otherwise stay indoors to venture out to meal sites. The totals from the 2020 point-in-time count won’t be released for several months, but Loken anticipates them topping the 1,907 people counted in 2019.
“Homelessness is a real problem in our community, even though it can sometimes seem invisible,” Loken said.