Homeless Count Shines Light on Invisible Problem

The Housing Continuum and Care agency counted more than 150 unsheltered people living in Bucks County.

One day before starting the official count of unsheltered people living in Bucks County, volunteer Deborah Neidhart asked a staff member at one of the Central Bucks libraries if she knew of any homeless people in the area. Neidhart said the woman was shocked and denied that there were any homeless people at all in the area.

"If you are not exposed to it, if you don't see it, then you really don't know that it exists," she said. "It's more invisible in Central Bucks than anywhere else in the county."

It's a common misconception that Neidhart encounters, that only the lower part of Bucks County has a homeless population. It's a myth that Neidhart needs to shatter if she and the rest of her team hope to get an accurate count.

"The camps are very centralized in Lower Bucks, and Upper Bucks has a good word-of-mouth network of libraries and grocery stores, where everybody knows where the camps are," said Neidhart. "Here, we spend all afternoon beating the bush looking for needles in a haystack."

Neidhart is a member of one of the three teams that spent 24 hours last week performing the homeless count for Bucks County. When the numbers are gathered up, they are reported to the Housing and Urban Development Department, which in turn determines how much federal and state assistance the county receives for housing programs.

Between noon Jan. 30 and noon Jan. 31, the teams counted a total of 153 unsheltered people, including 62 family members and 62 single adults that were on a waiting list for emergency shelter in Lower Bucks.

The teams also counted 418 individuals in emergency shelters or transitional housing, for a grand total of 571, an increase from last year's count of 422.

Emma Weisser, a representative from the Community and Business Development department, credited better resources and stronger information gathering as the reason for the rise.

"The increase in people counted is more representative of our improved abilities in gathering and reporting on information," she stated. "As opposed to an actual increase in the number of homeless or at-risk persons in the county."

Neidhart and her team travelled to well-known encampment sites in Central Bucks, including a camp in the woods near the Warminster SEPTA station that had been abandoned after a fire last year.

In New Hope, they encountered a homeless man who lives in his truck. They informed him of a Code Blue shelter that had been set up at Trinity Episcopal Church in Buckingham, but he opted to stay on his own.

"That's pride," said Allen Johnson, team leader for the Central Bucks count. "A lot of these people don't want to accept help. It's a shame for them to be out there in the cold."

The Code Blue shelter program is a volunteer-run system that offers to the homeless a warm place and a meal to help escape the bitter cold for at least one night. One location gets placed on call for a month-long shift, with volunteers ready to accept guests when the temperatures dip.

In Central Bucks, the February location is the Doylestown Presbyterian Church, maintained by the Coalition to Shelter the Homeless.

In Lower Bucks, the Advocates for Homeless & Those in Need is operating a Code Blue shelter at A Church of Living Hope in Langhorne.

Mary Taylor February 09, 2013 at 11:55 PM
It is such a complex problem. The government takes our hard earned money...hires people to count the homeless....doles the money out as they see fit & the ones who truly need it never see a dime. I get the frustration. There are always people who know how to work the system and milk it undeservingly. However, you can't just say that all homeless are lazy. Wandering the community for 12+ hours a day with everything you own in a backpack or grocery cart, eating out of trash cans & pitching a tent in the woods, doesn't exactly define lazy. I would be worn out just by the walking. Many homeless suffer from mental problems brought on by terrible life experience. True, some are drug addicts and alcoholics as a result of their own poor choices, but there are others who have just had a string of bad luck. Once you spend a week homeless...same clothes...no shower...bad breath & a straggly beard, your not exactly ready for a job interview. It would drive many of us to drink. It's clear that the govenment can't solve the problem. I would love it, if they would get their hands out of my wallet so that I could use my money to help neighbors, friends, co-workers & strangers in need. I couldn't do any worse. Still...with what we have left, we can all do somethng. We need to keep our eyes, ears, heart, minds & wallets open to those who could use are help. Maybe we could help them before they end up on the streets. I'm reminded of 2 Corinthians 9:6-7.
Diane February 10, 2013 at 03:37 AM
I think like you O dear blessed soul Mary. I help several now & m experiencing my own hardships. I don't have much, yet I live to give. I m glad to notice UR expansive heart !!! There r good people in the world. !! I hope those of who have written in Open UR heart and recognize the need in UR own back yards.
Sandy February 10, 2013 at 04:04 AM
WOW some of you people need a heart. I hope and pray that you never have to experience what these ppl. are going thru. It doesn't take much to end up homeless, your just delusional if you think your safe and secure. If this country can continue to send millions of dollars to other countries, who don't appreciate it, then why can't we open some closed up businesses to house these poor individuals. Can you imagine being outside all winter? I'm sure this is not the life they want, it is inhumaine to allow folks to freeze to death in this day and age. It's time our gov't does something for AMERICANS. Think of the jobs that could open up if each county could offer: Job training, medical help, re-hab, and get these folks back on their feet. Homelessness is not a choice.
Sandy February 10, 2013 at 04:13 AM
Hail Hitler !!!!!! Sheesh, grow a heart.


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