Church helping count Union County's homeless
Jan 18, 2013 (The Union Daily Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Charles Warner|Daily Times
Trinity Baptist Church is working with the Upstate Homeless Coalition to determine the number and needs of the homeless of Union County.
Charles Warner|Daily Times Trinity Baptist Church is working with the Upstate Homeless Coalition to determine the number and needs of the homeless of Union County.
Church helping count Union County's homeless
UNION -- Before the homeless of Union County can get the help they need they first have to be identified and a local church is helping an upstate organization that helps the homeless do that.
The Rev. Neil Keisler, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, announced this week that, through its Channel of Blessings Ministry, his church is assisting the Upstate Homeless Coalition in its efforts to identify any individuals and families in Union County that are homeless. While Union County doesn't have a large homeless population, Keisler said homelessness does occur, at least on a temporary basis, and that those who find themselves homeless need help in getting back on their feet.
"In our ministry we run into many people who are temporarily or short-term homeless," Keisler said. "Union County doesn't have a huge homeless population and most of those who are homeless are homeless in the short-term due to some sort of crisis. They are left homeless because of fire, eviction, domestic violence and through our ministry we work with these people.
"We began working with the Upstate Homeless Coalition through this and they've just asked us to help identify any homeless in Union County," he said. "You've got to identify them first before you can help them. This is the first step in the process."
In a statement announcing the effort, Keisler said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines a homeless person as:
1. An individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.
2. An individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is:
a. A supervised, publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations, including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill;
b. An institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized (up to 30 consecutive days); or
c. A place not meant for human habitation (a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings).
3. An individual fleeing a domestic violence situation, no subsequent residence has been identified, and the person lacks the resources and support networks needed to obtain housing.
Keisler said the government defines the "unsheltered homeless" as people that are living on the street, in abandoned buildings, in their vehicles, chicken coops, tents, shanties, parks, woods, transportation stations, or other places not meant for human habitation.
"If you are aware of any individual or family within Union County that meet any of these qualifications, please contact us before Thursday, January 24," Keisler said.
According to its website (www.upstatehomeless.com) The Upstate Homeless Coalition of South Carolina "is a private, non-profit organization. UHCSC is a collaborative organization dedicated to ending homelessness through programming, advocacy, and building safe and affordable housing. UHCSC coordinates the Continuum of Care throughout a 13 county area, helping to find gaps in services for homeless people and develop strategies to close the gaps. We take a holistic approach to help homeless people build new lives."
The counties in the coalition's service area include Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Edgefield, Greenville, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick, Newberry, Oconee, Pickens, Spartanburg, and Union.
Michael Chesser, coalition executive director, said the identification process the coalition is undertaking with Trinity Baptist and other volunteers is required by the federal government. He said the information gathered will not only determine the number of homeless there, but also the conditions of their homelessness and the kind of assistance they might be eligible for.
"One of the reasons that we count is the federal government requires that a count of the homeless every two years," Chesser said. "We have ways of counting those that are sheltered and that is done electronically through our computer, the Homeless Management Information System.
"What we are doing is counting the unsheltered homeless and that's why we have so many volunteers out in the street talking to homeless persons getting some data from," he said. "The kind of information that we would ask is personal information such as their birthday and Social Security number so that we can have unduplicated count because some of these people may speak to more than one volunteer. We would also ask them what services they would require, what was their last housing experience, if they are veterans, if they have a disability. Often, housing is more quickly available for those with a disability."
While the Upstate Homeless Coalition is looking to identify those who meet HUD's definition of homeless. Keisler said in some cases people who are living in a house can nevertheless face some of the same problems similar to those faced by the homeless and need just as much help.
"There is a family now who while they are still living in a house, they have no electricity, no paid utilities at all due to the death of a loved one," Keisler said. "We have provided them with a kerosene heater and food and we are working with other agencies to try and get some rent paid and utilities restored."
Keisler said Trinity began its Channel of Blessings Ministry approximately three years ago and began working with the Upstate Homeless Coalition two years ago. It is through its Channel of Blessings Ministry that the church, both on its own and in cooperation with other churches and agencies, helps the needy of Union County.
"We help about 250 to 300 families a month throughout the county," Keisler said. "At Christmas we partnered with Mon-Aetna to help 52 families and handed out blankets, pillow, dishes, toys and everything from shampoo to deodorant. It was just a huge offering we gave to each family."
Keisler said he hopes the ministry will be able to expand in the future, but needs warehouse space to store the food and household items it distributed to the needy of Union County.
If you know someone who is homeless or otherwise in need of assistance, contact Rev. Keisler at 864-706-0481.
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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