PICKENS COUNTY — The warmer temperatures this winter make it is difficult to remember there are homeless members of the community. Although they might not be seen, Pickens County still has an issue when it comes to poverty.
Julie Capaldi, president of United Way of Pickens County, said these are the “hidden homeless” that exist but are rarely seen, unlike in more urban areas.
“Normally by this time of year, the weather has brought this issue to everyone’s mind but this year it’s unseasonably warm which changes things,” Capaldi said. “Pickens County has its own population of the homeless who are living anywhere they can find shelter, it’s just that they are out of sight.”
With the newest Point in Time Count (PIT) expected in January 2016, a study to determine a count of the homeless in Pickens County and conducted by the United Way, Capaldi discussed how the study and related programs began and the information members of the community should be aware of.
“The reason we got involved in this type of study came about years ago when I had a wealthy donor involved in volunteering at one of the local elementary schools. They were shocked by the number of children at the school which were homeless and asked us (United Way) how many there were in the county,” Capaldi related. “We had no way to answer the question and that’s how the PIT study began. Between this study and the numbers from HUD (Housing and Urban Development), there is a fairly accurate number when it comes to homelessness in Pickens County, and it is far too high.”
The HUD study, known as McKinney-Vento because it is derived from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Act, was enacted to protect children and youth experiencing homelessness. It defines homelessness as lacking a fixed, adequate, nighttime residence.
According to Capaldi, the McKinney-Vento and PIT numbers have a degree of accuracy but that accuracy still has a margin of error as it is impossible in some cases to locate all those in need. But according to the data available, Pickens County’s poverty problem continues to be represented by the “hidden homeless.”
The most recent McKinney-Vento statistics — from 2014 — show there were some 1,906 school-age children within the School District of Pickens County who met the lack of residency requirements and were considered homeless.
“That’s a big number, but it’s also a low number when you consider it,” Capaldi said. “This is only the number of school children and does not count any older siblings which may be out of school for whatever reason and does not include any number of parents.
“When you factor in what is missing, the number gets bigger,” she added. “Even our count isn’t completely accurate, although we have more folks involved this year which should help. Either way, when you look at the numbers, they are too low.”
If there are homeless in Pickens County, how are they hidden?
“There are a lot of people bunking up with friends or shelters, in cars, storage sheds, trailers in someone’s yard, and I have seen myself someone living in a horse trailer in someone else’s yard,” Capaldi said. “In a lot of cases these shelters are short term and they have to move on and find somewhere else to sleep. There have been small tent cities in the past in Pickens County where small communities have sprung up in the woods and it’s my understanding that, even though we haven’t seen those this year, there are still people having to live in the woods, in the open.”
The response to the problem has been slow and requires transitional housing to stem the tide, Capaldi said, adding organizations such as The Dream Center and programs such as United Way’s Family Promise have stepped in to fill the void.
“One of the best things to happen to Pickens County is The Dream Center and Family Promise, which was begun to help lead the way on these issues,” Capaldi said. “The Dream Center is doing the case management work to not only help us and everyone else in the county but are also able to present the numbers to substantiate the homeless figures in this county, which are hard to believe because they are never seen. For the homeless there are programs available but not nearly enough to really make a dent in the problem.”
But that does not mean there is not hope, Capaldi said. Organizations such as United Way are continually looking for solutions through groups such as their Impact Council, with ideas like transitional housing being discussed.
“There’s one thing about Pickens County and that’s an attribute of working together,” Capaldi said. “The organizations here do collaborate with one another and work toward a common goal. It used to be money drove the work we do, but now the work is driving the money.”
Reach D. C. Moody at 864-855-0355.