Survey: homeless rates increase by 58 percent in Athens County

A recent survey reveals that the homeless count of Athens County increased by almost 60 percent in the last two years.

A survey conducted by the Athens County Housing Coalition in January shows a 58 percent increase in homelessness in the area, said Terri Gillespie, a social worker for Integrated Services.

A new count is required every other year by the federal housing coalition, said Gillespie.

“We feel like we’ve gained a better understanding of the needs [of people] and have more participants in surveys completed than in the past,” she said.

Of the 366 households surveyed, 48 were classified as homeless by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to the report.

In addition to those who were classified as homeless, another 147 households resided in temporary housing. Nearly 50 percent of these households classified themselves as homeless, but did not meet the definition, according to the report.

The federal government classifies individuals as homeless only if they are living in an emergency shelter or on the street, said Gillespie. Families or individuals who are without a permanent address and staying with friends do not qualify.

The causes of homelessness in the area are multifaceted, said Gillespie, adding that besides substance abuse and behavioral problems, there is a lack of meaningful employment that can provide for a family.

“We live in a poverty-rich area and [there are] not necessarily a lot of jobs that provide a sustainable income,” she said.

There are various local metropolitan agencies that assist the homeless in the area, such as shelters, housing assistance for the disabled, temporary transitional housing and a homeless prevention program, Gillespie said.

In Athens, Good Works, Inc. facilitates the Timothy House, a local homeless shelter that seeks to provide a safe, clean, stable and temporary place for residents to work on issues in their lives that led to their homelessness, according to the organization’s website.

Good Works founder Keith Wasserman declined to comment.

“People who are homeless in rural areas are more hidden and don’t fit the stereotype … The need is deep but it’s more hidden [here],” said Gillespie.

State Representative Debbie Phillips could not be reached for comment.

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