Parkersburg homeless count doubles

PARKERSBURG – The number of homeless people in Parkersburg has nearly doubled from January of last year, according to the “Point in Time” survey conducted Thursday by Westbrook Health Services.

Tim Baer, engagement specialist with Westbrook, said about 30 volunteers helped with the survey – conducted each January and July in Parkersburg – to get information about homelessness in Parkersburg, which will be forwarded to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

The volunteers representing several local agencies, services and programs in the area initially visited the Salvation Army’s shelter and the recently opened Latrobe Street Mission, conducting basis surveys and collecting some information from the people staying in those locations, Baer said.

After visiting the shelters, volunteers went to known locations in downtown Parkersburg, along the Little Kanawha and Ohio rivers and some wooded areas and parks to check for other homeless people, Baer said. They also went to some abandoned houses that showed signs of use, he said.

The people living outdoors were given backpacks with some basic clothing, supplies and other assistance, he said.

“They found seven people outdoors and over 100 at the Latrobe Street and Salvation Army shelters,” Baer said.

Baer said both numbers are nearly double that of last January’s count. In years past, there has been an issue with the limited space available with just the Salvation Army available as shelter space, along with some of its rules which limit the length of stay to eight weeks.

The opening of the Latrobe Street Mission in December has been a positive, providing more space for people in need, he said. Baer said he was impressed by the numbers in the shelters and the space being provided.

One thing Baer said he noticed is that more families seem to be affected by homelessness over the past six months. More people are also coming to West Virginia for a variety of reasons and things aren’t working out, leading some to experience homelessness. Others have lost their homes due to rising rent costs while others have experienced job loss and find themselves with no place to go, despite their interest in working and supporting themselves, he said.

As part of its report to the WVDHHR, he said Westbrook will also be including information from the area’s halfway house programs, Camden Clark Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Unit and others.

Baer said the Parkersburg area does have some services and programs available to help people who are homeless, so the goal is to connect those in need with the programs that can help them.

The biannual tally is conducted by the Continuum of Care, a multi-agency program that addresses homeless populations and strives to provide services to assist individuals in becoming self-sufficient.