Number of Homeless in Erie County Expected to Show Increase - WICU12 HD WSEE Erie, PA News, Sports, Weather and Events

Number of Homeless in Erie County Expected to Show Increase

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"I see whole families out here, newborn babies with no boots on the babies' feet," said Percy Horton. Horton fell on tough times and is currently a patron at Upperroom, a day shelter for those in need. This season, Horton noticed that Erie's shelters have been busier this season.

Though this year's official numbers on the Erie County homeless population isn't out yet, officials already expect the data show an increase from last year.

The county collects information on the number of homeless by conducting a one-day survey in the third week of January, talking to all the shelters county-wide and tallying how many people are receiving help at that point in time.

The Center for Community Outreach, Research, and Evaluation (C.O.R.E.) at Penn State Behrend crunches that data.

While the 2013 data counted 1,995 homeless individuals, C.O.R.E.'s founder and director, Carl Kallgren, expects to see an increase in the 2014 totals,  including that of homeless women and children.

"The face of homeless is changing," Kallgren said in a phone interview on Monday. "The big concern is what's going on with women, and especially women with children. That's where we've been seeing some increases. It's frightful," Kallgren said.

2013 data counted 255 homeless children in Erie County, more than doubling the count of 128 from 2012.

That number was only 76 children in 2010.

"It's probably the most alarming of all. To know that nearly half of our children (in the City of Erie) are living in poverty. I don't even know how to get my mind around that," said Pastor Rick Crocker, executive director of the Erie City Mission.

The Erie United Methodist Alliance "Hope House" is a shelter that specifically helps families with children. Connie Miller, a program supervisor, has noticed more people calling for assistance this year.

"We generally have 50, sometimes as much as 100 individuals on our waiting list," said Miller. Hope House only has resources to support nine families at a time.

"It's very tough to have to turn folks away and not be able to meet the need," Miller said.

Kallgren, at least in part, cites a sluggish economic recovery as reason behind the increasing trend of homelessness in Erie.

"People have been so fragile economically that they can be giving to the food bank, and in the next step, going to the food bank," he said.

Shelters agree that the weak economy plays a role in the higher demand for their services.

"Due to our economy and people not working, it's to be expected," said Ron Cooley, supervisor of operations at the Upperroom, a day shelter for those in need.

"While it (the economy) may be recovering in some parts of our country, it seems that in Erie, the recovery is slower," Crocker said.

The unusually harsh winter proved an extra challenge to those already struggling.

"The cold weather, it doesn't help - especially when the economy is sluggish. You might not be able to pay the bills, so you get ousted. They end up on our doorstep," Cooley said. "Then we do what we can for them."

The official 2014 data will be released in mid-March.

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