Annual headcount finds little growth in homeless population

CACHE COUNTY – Despite the coronavirus pandemic, local advocacy groups have found no dramatic increase in the incidence of homelessness in the three-county Bear River Health District.

The local 2021 Point in Time Survey found no dramatic growth in homelessness in the Bear River Health District (Photo courtesy of the Safe Harbor Center).

That’s the preliminary conclusion of the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) survey of area homeless persons conducted in late January, according to Dr. Jess Lucero, a Utah State University social work professor and the university’s representative to the Local Homeless Coordinating Committee (LHCC).

That headcount of unsheltered homeless persons in Box Elder, Cache and Rich counties was conducted in the early morning hours of Jan. 28 to 30. At that time, volunteers located and administered a brief survey to 34 unsheltered homeless individuals. They also observed another 28 adults and children who were likely experiencing unsheltered homelessness, but were unable or unwilling to be surveyed.

That total of 62 actual or likely homeless individuals compared to 57 local homeless persons identified in 2020.

While local officials had been concerned that the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic may have significantly increased the problem of homelessness in Cache Valley, Lucero said that seems not to be the case.

“A common belief in our community is that homelessness is not an issue here,” she explained. “Homelessness in the Bear River area is less visible than in metro areas like Salt Lake City, but it is no less traumatic for those who experience it.”

Although the majority of the individuals counted in the recent PIT survey were found in Cache County, one homeless person was counted in Tremonton and two others were observed in Brigham City.

According to statistics released by the Bear River LHCC, the unsheltered homeless persons in this area were found sleeping in cars at retail parking lots, workplaces, park and ride locations, gyms and other locations; sleeping in storage units and sheds; camping in parks and canyons; at transit locations; or passing the nighttime walking through the streets.

In typical years, Lucero noted, homeless persons could also be found at any establishments that were open around-the-clock. Due to more limited hours imposed by COVID-19 restrictions, finding warmth at 24-hour establishments is no longer an option for the homeless.

“It’s important to emphasize that those experiencing homelessness in our community are our friends and neighbors,” Lucero added. “One financial setback to these low-income households can contribute to a domino effect that leads to eviction or loss of housing.

“And getting back into housing after experiencing homelessness is nearly impossible given the housing pinch we are in.”

The PIT survey is a national initiative conducted by local agencies on behalf of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development each January. HUD uses the data from the PIT count to evaluate the effectiveness of local agencies’ effort to address homelessness and to determine federal funding allocations.

The Bear River 2021 headcount was conducted by representatives of Utah Families Feeding Families, 4 Helping Hearts, USU and individual volunteers.

In addition to administering the PIT survey, the local counting teams were able to provide unsheltered homeless persons with blankets donated by the Hyrum Humanitarian Center and health care items from the Salvation Army. The volunteers also provided information about local organizations that provide housing and food assistance.

The PIT survey also counted individuals being sheltered at domestic violence facilities like those run by Citizens Against Physical and Sexual Abuse and the New Hope Crisis Center as well as those housed by emergency shelter motel programs administered by the Cache Valley Veteran’s Association, the Bear River Association of Governments and Utah Families Feeding Families.

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