DeKALB – Don Horn felt awkward when he returned to Hope Haven on Dec. 13.
The 58-year-old left the homeless shelter in 2004. He’s back because his monthly rent of $680 was too much for his disability payment of $685 to cover. He’s noticed a lot of changes, and figures without Hope Haven, he’d be living on the streets.
“Hope Haven is probably one of the best places here in the country,” Horn said. “If there’s something you need to learn, they’ll teach it to you. Or see to it that you did learn it.”
Horn is one of the 101 people in DeKalb County who were staying at a shelter on Jan. 25, according to the county’s annual Homeless Point-in-Time Count. The count, which is required for agencies that receive federal housing aid, attempts to categorize the number of homeless people on a specific date each year.
This year’s count found the fewest number of homeless people and homeless households since 2009. The count has found between 22 and 27 homeless families with children each year since 2009, while the number of childless homeless families fluctuated from 52 in 2009 to 63 in 2011 to 42 in 2013, according to the count.
But the tally is not necessarily complete. Authorities’ ability to accurately count homeless people outside shelters is limited. Authorities found 31 homeless people outside shelters in 2009, compared with three this year.
The count does not address homeless people who might be sleeping in their cars, staying in hotel rooms, or staying with family or friends.
“There is an underlying current who aren’t on the streets, but are staying with families or in motels,” said Michelle Perkins, executive director of DeKalb County Housing Authority. “That can be a concern area.”
By Perkins’ count, there are 39 children in local transitional or emergency shelters with their families. By the same count, there are no homeless children who are living on their own.
But that might not be the case, said Kelley Navar, a crisis intervention coordinator who works with homeless teenagers at the DeKalb County Youth Service Bureau. Navar said the bureau typically interacts with five homeless teens a year, but she suspects many are staying with friends or other family.
“We just don’t know,” Navar said. “It’s hard to get the word out. I think it’s a big stigma for kids. If they’re staying with friends, they feel they’re OK at that moment.”
Lesly Wicks, the executive director of Hope Haven, said most of the county’s homeless would be characterized as the working poor.
“[They are] people who work, but just don’t make enough of a living wage to afford housing,” Wicks said. “It is the gap between what people make and how much housing costs.”
Hope Haven, located at 1145 Rushmoore Drive in DeKalb, is the site of two programs: A transitional housing program for families, and an emergency housing shelter.
The 12 families living in the shelter’s transitional program live in bedrooms, while men and women at the emergency shelter are segregated into larger rooms filled with bunk beds.
Residents of the transitional program stay for 18 months and pay 30 percent of their monthly income as rent, Wicks said. Residents of the emergency shelter have 90 days to execute their “plan of action” – goals and objectives they set out for themselves.
“They have three main goals,” Wicks said. “How are you going to transition to permanent housing? How are you going to increase your income or education? And how are you going to strengthen your self-determination?”
For Horn, the answer to the second question isn’t finding a job. Horn said he suffers from deep depression, anxiety and sleep apnea. He also has a bad back and arthritis.
“My going back to work is out of the question. Because of my anxiety,” he said. “Mine’s stress-related. If I get under a lot of stress, I start ... going nuts.”
Wicks said if a client is doing well on his or her plan of action, they can apply to the transitional program, if there’s space, or extend their 90-day stay.
Horn’s plan of action was simple enough: “Get an apartment and get the [heck] out of here.”
In addition to beds that can fit at least 80 people, the shelter also features a play room for children, a large kitchen and classrooms for children and adults.
Hope Haven underwent an expansion in 2011, going from a 10,000-square-foot facility to a 14,500-square-foot one. In the new wing, the shelter added 30 beds, a classroom and an expanded kitchen.
Wicks said the expansion has allowed the shelter to accommodate the additional people who became homeless when the economy collapsed.
“For awhile there, we saw a huge peak of people seeking shelter,” Wicks said. “It seems to be leveling out a bit.”
Wicks said she doesn’t think another expansion will be needed in 10 years, partly because the model for homeless aid is changing.
“The old model is, you bring people into shelters, you provide them with services and you get them housing,” Wicks said. “The new model is called housing first. You get people into housing as soon as possible and then provide the services to them in their homes. It’s a much more cost-effective model.”
DeKALB COUNTY HOMELESSNESS COUNT
All data gathered on Jan. 25
Homeless, in shelter: 101
Homeless, unsheltered: 3
Mentally ill, in emergency shelter: 23
Mentally ill, in transitional shelter: 2
Chronic substance abuse, emergency shelter: 15
Chronic substance abuse, transitional shelter: 1
Domestic violence victims, emergency shelter: 7
Domestic violence victims, transitional shelter: 5
Source: DeKalb County Housing Authority