AKRON, Ohio — In the hours before sunrise in this week’s sub-zero temperatures, street outreach workers and volunteers fanned out across Summit County to conduct the annual head-count of every sheltered and unsheltered homeless person in the county.

What You Need To Know

  • Every January, the federally mandated “point-in-time count” provides a “snapshot view” of the county’s homeless

  • For the first time, Summit County is counting homeless young people, with many in the LGBTQ+ population

  • The PIT determines how much funding the county receives from HUD to house the homeless

  • The county established a permanent center in Akron, the Bayard Ruston LGBTQ+ Resource Center

Every January, the federally mandated “point-in-time count” provides a “snapshot view” that determines how much funding Summit County receives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to house the homeless, said Mar-quetta Boddie, executive director of Summit County’s Continuum of Care.

The Summit County CoC is a collaborative of social services agencies working to end homelessness.

But the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people experience homelessness and the way supportive services are delivered, Boddie said.

“I think it has brought out some of the best situations that could have ever happened because it's brought us more money and we've been able to be creative and innovative with that money,” Boddie said. “But it's also been difficult because a lot of organizations are understaffed, severely understaffed, and they can't operate. They've had reduced capacity. So it's been challenging and it’s been rewarding at the same time.”

Social distancing and public health precautions have meant far fewer shelter beds, while an extraordinarily low inventory of available housing has made housing placements challenging since March 2020, she said. The lack of housing is especially obvious when temperatures drop to dangerous levels as they have this month.

The CoC is actively recruiting landlords with spare units to rent. (Courtesy of Summit County CoC)

To build a stronger housing program, the CoC is actively recruiting landlords with spare units to rent, offering a $3,000 sign-on bonus as well as mitigation to cover any damage to the units and for rental loss, Boddie said. Interested landlords should call 330-803-2431, or send an email.

In the past, to get an accurate PIT total the CoC has combined numbers from the local shelters and drop-in centers with data from the in-person count. But this year, Community Support Services outreach workers went to known encampments, meal centers and the metro station where the homeless gather, and found fewer people than normal, Boddie said.

That’s because many people who normally sleep in encampments under bridges and by railroad tracks have taken shelter in Akron’s emergency overnight shelter established in early January when temperatures first plummeted, she said. That shelter will remain open through at least the end of January.

When the emergency shelter and other overnight facilities around the city close in the morning, many people visit one of the four drop-in warming centers the city and county established this month, she said. Social workers have kept track of that movement for an accurate PIT count.

What’s more, the PIT is usually a one-day event, but this year the CoC launched a separate count of homeless young people, many who are members of the LGBTQ+ population.

That count will continue through Friday, Boddie said, hitting all the places young homeless adults would frequent.

“Youth homelessness has always been an issue and it's an issue nationwide. But one of the things that we realized once we conducted a youth-needs assessment was that youths are not presenting at the front door, they don't access shelters, they don't really call 211,” she said.

Anyone who needs shelter in Summit County can dial 2-1-1 for help, but most young people won’t go to adult shelters, Boddie said.

 “Imagine yourself at 18 — it is very intimidating,” she said. “They're being solicited for different things and there's some drug activity. So they’re scared.”

The CoC also is working with the Akron Public Schools District’s Project Rise, which serves homeless children, to get count of homeless students.

“We're hoping to get better numbers so that we can raise funding for young people to have better housing options in Summit County, and also possibly have a youth-specific shelter,” she said.

A Youth Advisory Board made up of formerly homeless people from 18 years old to about 26 was created to help spark new ideas for ways the CoC can connect, she said.

The CoC also boosted its outreach efforts, hosting welcoming events that offer food, bus passes and other amenities to attract young homeless adults, Boddie said.

This week in just two days, the CoC’s youth coordinator Shana Miller counted 64 homeless young people, Boddie said. “This youth-specific count is really going to help us get these numbers,” she said. “We have not been able to do that in the past.”

The county also established the Bayard Ruston LGBTQ+ Resource Center, a permanent center for the LGBTQ+ population, which Boddie said has not had the same opportunities other populations have had.

The Bayard Ruston LGBTQ+ Resource Center is a safe space for Black LGBTQ+ residents but welcomes all races. (Courtesy of Summit County CoC)

 “I think it's a very large community that has felt shut out. I'm really hoping that we start meeting that need, because it's very unfortunate to see people in the LGBTQ+ community feel underserved and underrepresented,” Boddie said. “We noticed that it is an issue, and we are looking to solve it. It is not OK.”

The Bayard Ruston LGBTQ+ Resource Center, located at 258 W. Market St. is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The center is considered a safe space for Black LGBTQ+ residents but welcomes all races. Masks are mandatory and temperatures are taken at the door. The center offers free communal meals, housing assistance, various types of counseling, job readiness training, safety training for trans people and free covid, HIV and STI testing.

The temporary Akron Emergency Overnight Shelter, is located at 111 E. Voris St. and is open from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. when the temperature drops to 15 degrees or below. The shelter offers food and clothing.

The city’s temporary extreme-cold warming centers offer daytime access to heated facilities and are located at Akron community centers:

  • Lawton Street Community Center, 1225 Lawton St.  330-375-2825
  • Mason Park Community Learning Center, 700 East Exchange St. 330-375-2821
  • Patterson Park Community Center, 800 Patterson Ave. 330-375-2819
  • Summit Lake Community Center, 380 West Crosier St. 330-375-2826

Haven of Rest Ministries located at 207 E. Market St. in downtown Akron offers extreme weather shelters and warming and cooling centers, as well as hot coffee, meal signups and overnight shelter. For information, call 330-535-1563, or 330-434-1149.