There are no homeless shelters in Danville and surrounding communities, so there is no obvious place to go if you are on the streets and in need of a place to spend the night.
That same situation makes it difficult to locate homeless people and count them accurately. They are out there, part of our communities, but they are mostly unseen and difficult to track down.
“Urban areas like Lexington and Louisville have shelters; the homeless are more visible there,” said Ebony Smith, a housing field representative for Safe Connections. “With us not having a shelter, it’s hard to find those people. Our homeless aren’t under bridges or in abandoned buildings, so it’s hard to get information. All you can do is keep trying.”
Smith was among those from various agencies who fanned out across the area Thursday in an effort to find and document those without a steady, safe place to sleep at night.
The count was conducted midnight-to-midnight for the annual Point-in-Time homeless survey that helps determine how much federal and state funding comes to local agencies that work with the homeless.
By lunchtime, Smith was able talk to and document five people in Danville that fit the federal definition of homeless: people lacking a fixed, regular and adequate night-time residence.
There was a lot of legwork involved. Smith made stops across town, from motels to the police and fire departments to the courthouse to the Salvation Army, looking for information about anyone who might be homeless.
At Heart of the Bluegrass United Way on Third Street, Smith met with Resource Development Director Liz Cook, who was in the process of trying to help a woman find a place to live.
The unidentified woman and her two young children had fled domestic violence in their home and had been staying with a friend. But the friend’s landlord evicted the woman because the lease agreement at the apartment did not allow children.
Further complicating matters, the woman’s estranged husband had just been released from jail, and there was concern he may come looking for her, “She’s in hiding,” Cook said.
“There’s so many people who need help like this. There’s no way you’re going to be able to count them all,” Cook said. “The number you can document, you can multiple that by 10 times or more.”
Tallies from this year’s Point-in-Time count won’t be compiled for about two months. Numbers from last year’s survey show that 14 homeless people were counted in Boyle County, 17 in Casey County, two in Garrard, 10 in Lincoln and five in Mercer.
By comparison, there were 1,551 homeless documented in Fayette County in 2010, 1,626 in Jefferson County and 255 in Daviess County (Owensboro).
While homeless people who come in contact with local relief agencies are often helped to find shelter, at least temporarily, there are sometimes tragic endings. Earlier this month, Wayne Adkins, who lived on the streets of Stanford, was found dead.
Lincoln County Coroner Farris Marcum said Adkins died of hypothermia from being exposed to cold temperatures. Marcum said Adkins, an alcoholic, lived on the streets by choice. Several family members offered him a place to stay, and sometimes he would accept, but mostly he preferred the streets, Marcum said.
Adkins might have fit the definition of “precariously housed,” a term used to describe those who live with two or more families in an overcrowded space, not by choice, but out of necessity. People in that situation can be counted as homeless in the survey.
Danville Police Chief Jay Newell told Smith that his officers most often encounter the “precariously housed” homeless.
“A lot of what we see here is people who have family in the area, but they’ve been kicked out,” Newell said. “They stay with a friend for a night or two, and then another friend, and sometimes have no place to go until they can land on their feet.”
Smith called this situation “couch surfing.”
While Smith was tracking the homeless during the daylight hours Thursday, C.R. Payne had the more challenging task of night-time canvassing in search of homeless.
Payne, a community developer with Bluegrass Community Action Partnership in Danville, patrolled in his car from midnight to 3 a.m. and was back on the streets from 9 p.m. to midnight.
Payne said he checked places such as the bathrooms at Millennium Park and Junction City Park and other spots he thought a homeless person might go to seek shelter from the elements. He did not find anyone during his early morning canvass.
“The only thing I saw was a woman who was walking from Danville to Junction City,” Payne said. “I stopped and talked to her, but she had an apartment. I gave her a ride home.”