While many Halifax County residents are turning up the heat in their homes to stay warm this time of year, others are seeking shelter from the cold.
Homelessness is a reality for some county residents.
Every winter, those people are identified and counted in a 12-hour “Point-in-Time” (PIT) count. The count is a federal requirement.
“We do have a lot of people who are reporting that they are homeless in Halifax County,” said Kim Carson, director of emergency services for the Tri-County Community Action Agency, Inc.
Numbers from this year’s count, which took place Wednesday night through Thursday evening, were still being finalized as of press time Thursday.
Last year, 18 people, including six children, were counted in the PIT count, according to Carson.
That number includes only those who meet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) criteria for homelessness: “living in a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangement” including a motel paid for by a voucher from a charitable organization or with a primary residence “not fit for human habitation,” such as a car, a park, an abandoned building, or a train or bus station (HUD, 2014 guidance).
The PIT count does not include people without a permanent residence who are “house hopping” – temporarily staying with friends and family members, Carson explained.
That means the actual number of people without permanent housing in the county is higher than the count reflects.
Along with being counted, the homeless identified in the PIT count also have the option of taking a survey about their life and experiences.
The purpose is to gather information about the needs of people experiencing homelessness, risk factors for homelessness, and determine the level of funding each county needs to address homelessness.
Halifax County currently has no homeless shelter.
“We have a large need for a homeless shelter here in Halifax County,” said Bonita Nelson. “We also need an emergency warming center where they can go, even if it’s in the daytime, and we need to make sure they have enough clothes and blankets to stay warm.”
Nelson is the director and founder of The Passage Place, a Christian-based transition home located on Moore Street in South Boston, for those transitioning from homelessness to permanent housing.
Nelson said many of those who stay at The Passage Place are in a cycle of generational poverty and do not have the life skills they need to become financially independent.
The mission of the transition home is to give people the counseling, education and other tools they need to improve their quality of life and secure decent housing.
Those experiencing homelessness also have the option of applying for the Tri-County Community Action Agency’s motel voucher program, which provides vouchers for individuals/ families in need to stay short-term in motels.
The agency also has a Rapid Rehousing Program to assist homeless with a subsidy to secure housing.
The agency is funded on a yearly basis with the budget year beginning July 1, but Carson said the agency’s funds for motel vouchers often are depleted six months into the year.
The Southside Continuum of Care District No. 13 meets annually to identify the needs of agencies providing assistance to those meeting HUD’s criteria of homelessness in the counties of Halifax, Mecklenburg, Charlotte and Brunswick.
Private organizations typically bear the responsibility of addressing the needs of the homeless population of Halifax County.
However, Halifax County Emergency Services (EMS) opens “warming centers” where county residents can stop in for a couple of hours whenever there is a “prolonged cold spell reaching critically low temperatures over a period of time,” said the county’s EMS director Steven Dishman.
He said the current weather conditions do not necessitate the opening of a warming center.
Anyone at risk of becoming homeless or currently experiencing homelessness can call the Tri-County Community Action Agency for a pre-screening assessment during normal business hours at 434-404-3455, or the after-hours emergency number at 434-446-6963 from 4 to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 1 to 8 p.m. on weekends and holidays.