Homeless census gathers data to help those in need

Alex Trabold, Staff writer

As part of the Mercy Mission, Mercyhurst takes part in many community service activities here in the Erie community. One such project is the annual Homeless Census conducted by the Mercyhurst Thomas J. Gamble Civic Institute in con-tract with the Erie County Department of Human Services to facilitate the Single Point in Time Count. This has been the fourth year doing such a census for Erie.

George Fickenworth is the assistant director of the Civic Institute and explained just how many Erie residents are affected by this census.

“This count is essentially a census count of persons who are identified as being homeless – living on the streets, and those residing in an emergency shelter or a transitional housing program,” Fickenworth said. “Our office works closely with our partners to facilitate this process.”

A lot of work was done months in advance to set up the logistics. In the past two years students have been involved in this project as well, with Maria Torres, Ph.D. associate professor and Chair of the Department of Public Health bringing students from her Public Health course and Adam Saeler, Ph.D., assistant professor of Criminal Justice, and his students as well.

As well as the project being mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are many things that make this project worthwhile. First, having a good, accurate number allows the community to continue receiving needed funds to work with this population. Local stake-holders use this count as well as other data in their strategic decision making and program development throughout the year.

The Single Point in Time Count also provides a great opportunity to bring awareness to the community of the issue of homelessness.

Saeler sees this data collection as an essential tool in helping to aid the homeless population of Erie county.

“If we are unsure of the problem we cannot address it effectively. Ending homelessness and ensuring that all individuals have a safe and secure place to live is paramount, but if we don’t fully understand the problem, and especially the problem from their point of view, we as a community will continue to struggle with regards to the stated goal,” Saeler said.

Homelessness is prevalent everywhere, so the work done in Erie is significant on a larger scale as well.

“Every resident, in any lo-cation, should be concerned about homelessness, why individuals find themselves without shelter, and if there is anything that they can do,” Saeler said.

Fickenworth’s views on the homeless population in Erie demonstrate how the Mercy mission is present in all of its staff members and their work for others.

“They are people, just like you and I and many of us could be in their shoes,” Fickenworth said. “We need to be more empathetic to their plight; few are those that choose to be homeless. But once you are, digging out of the situation is difficult.”

Saeler described his role in this year’s census as he and some students drove around Erie to see if there were any homeless people to assist.

“I volunteered to drive a group around a specific area of Erie County to see if we could find any individuals who might be homeless and in need of shelter,” Saeler said. “While my group did not find anyone, which is not unusual, if we had we would then ask if they would like to complete a brief survey; the information from that survey would provide the county with information about Erie’s homeless population.”

The program is always open for more students, but they may need to manage their schedules first.

“We welcome volunteers each January for the street count, students included. We do warn, however, that if you are not a late-night person this isn’t for you. We start the evening off at 10 p.m.,” Fickenworth said.