Homeless count leads to out of way places
Roland Fouche (left), program coordinator at Connections for the Homeless, and Nate Wallace talk about where to go to look for the homeless during the 2013 homeless count in cooperation with the Alliance to End Homelessness in downtown Evanston January 24
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:21AM
EVANSTON — Three walls in some type of enclosure, protected from the wind, and elevated above the street.
Those were the simple criteria guiding a team from Connections for the Homeless early Thursday morning as they searched parking garages, back stairwells, viaducts for spots homeless people might be hunkered down outside the shelter.
Team members stopped before the back end of a business that runs behind the movie theater retail district.
Nate Wallace, who has lived on the streets, served as a guide for the group, helping them find places where people might be lodging.
A member of the team, Roland Fouche, program coordinator for transitional services for Connections, looked in the spot Wallace located.
Though exposed, “when you walk in there you notice a difference in temperature,’’ he said. “As soon as you get out of their it’s as cold as it is now.”
Community members from throughout the North Shore gathered at 4 a.m. on Jan. 24 at the Lake Street Church to take part in a count of the area’s homeless.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development mandates that the Point in Time Counts be held at least every other year as a condition of funding.
The counts are intended to provide local planners with data on the number and characteristics of people who are homeless and, in turn, help guide their response to helping those individuals.
In the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness report a year ago, officials estimated between 500 to 700 people live on the street. In fiscal year 2011, Connections worked with 630 individuals living on the streets of and had open cases on 100 others, according to one report. People with no shelter at all generally, are either episodically homeless, chronically homeless or youth who tend to gravitate to Chicago, the study found.
For a local group like Connections, the count doesn’t really tell you “how many homeless people there are,’’ said Paul Selden, executive director of Connections for the Homeless. Rather, “it gives you an idea at a particular point in time of how many you can find.
“So as long as you’re consistent from one year to the next, then you’re going to have a fairly good measure of whether the population is increasing or decreasing.”
Connections used to conduct the count on its own. In 2011, however, in 2011 the city merged the Evanston Continum of Care with the Continiuum of Care of the Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County, with the idea of developing regional approaches to homelessness.
Along with Evanston, teams were sent out to Wilmette, Winnetka, Kenilworth and Skokie, said Loren Seeger, program coordinator for the Alliance.
Because of the extreme cold, volunteers also conducted surveys at shelters, which have been at capacity in the area, with many people who usually are on the street, going to get out of the extreme cold, said Seeger.
In any encounters, said Sue Loellbach, director of development for Connections, volunteers approach such situations carefully. They ask homeless individuals some questions about their situation and whether they would be willing to take a survey. Volunteers also bring with them a bag containing some canned goods, cold weather gear and hygiene products, she said.
”The survey is really focused on identifying people who have health problems and could be in trouble if they stay on the streets,’’ she explained.
Volunteer Ayanna Brown joined Loellbach and others on the Evanston team, scouting out possible homeless places outside. Brown, an Evanston resident, was displaced from her own job with CVS three years ago.
Looking to fill a void with volunteer work, “Connections was the only place I felt connected,’’ she said.
She helps out at the center’s shelter, preparing lunches and talking to people from all walks of life.
“It’s humbling for me to talk to them,” she said. “It gives me a different outlook, a better outlook.”
On this night, she’s wearing three shirts under a bulky coat, as team members search on foot for homeless who might be living outside.
The Evanston team searches familiar “hot spots,’’ such as the city’s parking garages, the back end of businesses, parts of Northwestern University campus
Wallace leads them to a row of garages that back up to a large apartment building in the Dempster Street-Sherman Avenue area.
“Not bad, not bad,’’ he said, checking out one space. “It’s got three walls. There are garages, so you’re not going to get as much traffic as you’d get from somebody’s residence.”
This frigid night, one of the coldest of the year, though, team members aren’t finding people in such spots, three walls or not.
“If it’s this cold, a lot of people are on trains or they’ll be in Burger King,’’ said Loellbach, noting another group is checking the trains.
“Trains are two dollars and a quarter,’’ agreed Wallace. From 95th Street to the end of the line, “you could probably get six and half hours of sleep,’’ he said.