Montgomery County volunteers seek out homeless

FONDA — Volunteers from Montgomery County’s Department of Social Services assisted in a Point-in-Time count of the community’s homeless population on Jan. 30.

The department had 15 volunteers who used the PIT count to help track and create data of sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals in the county, according to a news release.

“A team left the Montgomery County Emergency Operations Center in search of any families or individuals who may be homeless along the roadways and in the towns of Canajoharie, Fort Plain and St. Johnsville,” said Dan Oakley, case supervisor. “The weather was snowy with high winds and subzero temperatures. The team conducted a diligent search, checking rest areas, parking lots, in and around all-night stores and restaurants, under overpasses, along dead-end roads, and in known abandoned buildings.”

The PIT count also helped determine funding and community planning, as well as identifying trends or patterns in service usage.

According to the release, unsheltered homeless individuals were not located through the PIT count, however, there were about 25 sheltered homeless individuals who were staying at Danielle’s House or one of the four designated hotels throughout Montgomery County.

DSS Commissioner Michael McMahon said the county is a member of the state’s “Balance of State” Continuum of Care. The department represents five counties and works to acquire funding to improve services related to homelessness. McMahon said the PIT count is a requirement when applying for Housing and Urban Development funding. The continuum is applying for a HUD grant that could provide $1 million to these counties. If awarded, the funds would be proportionally allocated and would be used for rapid rehousing and rental vouchers.

According to the release, before conducting the PIT count, DSS volunteers and several partner agencies held a briefing at the EOC. Volunteers formed teams and checked locations throughout the county such as rest areas, big-box stores, emergency rooms and gas stations.

“We drove into numerous locations, including convenience stores, hotels, churches, industrial areas, many parking areas, dead-end streets, areas where people are know to congregate and areas that border wooded areas,” said Robert Lennon, adolescent services unit supervisor. “We shone flashlights along the wooded areas and rode parallel to the train tracks in Amsterdam’s east end, shining flashlights as well.”

According to the release, volunteers were also on call at the EOC with care packages filled with snacks, winter garments and other personal hygiene items.

“Our goal was to do [the PIT count] safely and cover the ground we needed to cover throughout the entire county,” McMahon said. “It was also to make sure we collected good data.”

Theresa Cranker, long-term care coordinator, and her team who were assigned to the northern section of Amsterdam said, “Many of the people we spoke with were very grateful that we were out trying to assist people. We handed out our business cards with our DSS phone number and the sheriff’s number for after hours. This was a very interesting experience for all of us. I think going to different places and telling individuals we were here to help was educational for the community and it was well received. People we spoke to were interested in what we had to say.”

By Patricia Older

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