U.S announces drop in chronic homelessness

By Gus Bode

Ray Logan, an unemployed painter, has been living in his van since 2003.

Logan spends his days reading newspapers, drinking old coffee and is one of the hundreds of thousands of people living in the United States classified as chronically homeless.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently released a report documenting an 11.5 percent decrease in the number of chronically homeless people living in the United States, from 175,914 to 155,623. While the numbers report more than 20,000 people left the streets between 2005 and 2006, the southern Illinois region has not seen such a significant change.

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According to Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for HUD, chronically homeless people are those who are continually homeless for more than a year, or experience four or more episodes of homelessness over the course of three years.

Sullivan said many of these cases involve people with mental illnesses, drug or alcohol addictions, or people who are veterans.

Logan has been searching for work for four years with little luck.

“I think I just got tired of life,” Logan said. “I feel like I’m lost, it’s like you don’t know what to do anymore.”

HUD research indicates that chronically homeless people account for only 10 percent to 20 percent of the homeless population yet receive half of the resources dedicated to helping the homeless.

In 2005, a count of homeless people involved in civil services in southern Illinois totaled 120. The statistic changed very little in 2006, said Susan Metcalf, executive director of the Good Samaritan House, a soup kitchen and homeless shelter in Carbondale.

“I can tell you that no matter what that U.S. report tells you, we’re full here almost every night,” said Kevin Schraer, a volunteer at the Good Samaritan House.

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The shelter contains 23 beds available for the homeless and nine more beds upstairs in the transitional portion of the house, all of which are occupied most nights, Schraer said.

The Good Samaritan House is one of three homeless shelters in the southern Illinois area. According to Schraer, Carbondale provides many services for homeless individuals, including a shelter, soup kitchen and a workforce program to help the homeless earn money.

Schraer said it is difficult to get a good estimate of the homeless population in Carbondale because many come from across the country or are just passing through some nights.

“What I’ve heard is that we’re a sort of an island of social services in an area that doesn’t have much,” Schraer said. “So we don’t really feel the impact of the national drop.”

The drop is attributed to more programs such as transitional housing for the homeless, work programs and better data-collecting methods.

A one-night headcount is performed every year in communities with homeless shelters. In 2005 and 2007, communities also conducted a census of homeless people living outside of shelters, which provided more accurate data on the number of homeless individuals.

Charles H. Carlisle Sr., a resident at the Good Samaritan House and former U.S. Marine, said he traveled the world with the Marines, yet after being discharged, marital and financial problems left him without a home and he has been searching for a job since arriving at the shelter.

“Homelessness is a double-edged sword. Some people don’t want to change; they like to get things the way they do,” Carlisle said. “Not me. I like a roof over my head.”

David Lopez can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 273 or [email protected]

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