FAIRMONT — With the colder weather this winter, some will simply go into their homes to stay warm. But there are others who don’t have homes to go into.
Gena Wagaman, who works on the Marion County Coalition to End Homelessness (MCCEH) and others with the coalition have been working to end homelessness in Marion County.
Wagaman said there around between 400 and 600 people who are homeless in Marion County. She said these people could be in any level of homelessness.
The levels range from staying with friends or family, also known as “couch surfing,” to living in shelters or being on the streets.
“Many of the homeless in Marion County are tucked away in hollows and the woods in more rural areas,” Wagaman said.
Reasons why people become homeless can vary, according to Wagaman. She said the safety net that is out there has some gaping holes.
Wagaman said many people are one or two paychecks away from homelessness. She said layoffs, illnesses or disabilities may lead to people not being able to pay their rent or mortgage and other bills, and eventually they can’t buy food for themselves or their families.
“The longer you are laid off, the less likely it becomes that you will be able to recover,” Wagaman said.
Wagaman said being homeless is something that effects people year-round. She said during the winter, though, there is more risk because of the more harsh weather conditions.
“Freezing to death becomes a greater possibility in the winter that the summer,” Wagaman said.
During this part of the year, though, Wagaman said food drives, coat drives and toy drives become more numerous because different organizations set up their annual gifting.
The first need for the homeless is a home, according to Wagaman. She said that must be a place that is secure where they can sleep without worrying about someone bothering them and a place where they can keep their possessions without worrying about someone stealing them.
“Individually, they need to be recognized as individuals, not lumped together and dismissed as worthless, helpless and undesirable,” Wagaman said.
Agencies like the Union Mission, Scott Place and HOPE Inc., a women’s shelter, are available for those without a home. Wagaman said these places have requirements to live there and in some cases not everyone is willing or able to meet.
Something that is also available for those going through a rough patch in their lives is Connecting Link. Wagaman said Connecting Link is a clearinghouse for services that are available for people who are going through a tough time.
Another organization is the Housing Authority. Wagaman said the Housing Authority has a waiting list of people needing housing and has an extensive application and approval process.
“You have more need than you have resources,” she said.
In the fight to end homelessness, the coalition has joined the Housing First initiative. Wagaman said this initiative has housed 100,000 people nationwide.
“They did this by proving it is more cost effective to house people than to provide services for them at the street and shelter level,” she said.
Email Emily Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @EGallagherTWV.