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EDWARDSVILLE — As Madison County emerges from the recession that gripped the nation from 2006 to 2009, economic conditions in the county have significantly improved. The county is experiencing a significant drop in unemployment, home construction is increasing and new businesses are opening.
But the news is not all good. Madison County also is experiencing increased demand for emergency housing and food assistance, and all too frequently homeless shelters are fully occupied.
For 24 hours in January, volunteers from the Madison County Partnership to End Homelessness, social workers and students from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville conducted a canvass of those who are experiencing homelessness, individuals and families staying in shelters, as well as those unsheltered — literally sleeping outside — on the street, in a car or abandoned building on the night of the canvass.
A Point-In-Time count is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to demonstrate federal funding eligibility for many assistance programs, including emergency shelter operations, as well as transitional and permanent supportive housing projects.
The 2015 canvass showed Madison County with a homeless count of 397, including 162 children. One hundred seventy-six of those experiencing homelessness provided information that will be used to develop programs addressing the issue.
Frank Miles, administrator of Madison County Community Development, which administers many of the programs in place to aid those experiencing homelessness, said the actual number of people experiencing homelessness in the county is higher than the 397 identified in the canvass.
“People experiencing homelessness extends beyond the people forced to sleep on the street or who seek shelter in an underpass,” Miles said. “It could be the young boy or girl who is your child’s classmate. The family staying at an economy hotel might not be on vacation; they might be homeless and forced to use what money that have on a place to sleep for a night or two.”
“To identify every person experiencing homelessness in a 24-hour period is virtually impossible,” Miles said. “Despite the efforts of the Madison County Partnership to End Homelessness and the efforts of the local, state and federal governments, homelessness is still a problem.”
Of the 176 who participated in the survey, 114 (68 percent) were female and 118 (67 percent) were Caucasian. Seventy-three people (41 percent) were staying with a family member or friend, 27 (15 percent) were staying in transitional housing, 26 (14 percent) spent the previous night in an emergency shelter and 13 (7.5 percent) were living on the streets.
David Harrison of Madison County Community Development said there are many reasons for people being homeless.
“One statistic which is continually prevalent among this population is mental health issues,” Harrison said. “Seventy-six of the respondents (43 percent) have been diagnosed with mental conditions.”
While Harrison attributes the economy as a key cause for homelessness, he said there are many others.
“Unemployment, or insufficient income, was listed as the cause for homelessness by 67 people,” he said. “In many cases, people are employed but are working at minimum wage jobs and are unable to cover rent, utilities, food and other expenses. Forty-one of the persons surveyed had jobs.”
Other causes for homelessness included domestic violence, personal illness, building conditions and bad credit.