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January 29, 2013

YWCA to conduct homeless count

Survey results will gauge region's needs

NEWBURYPORT — On the surface, a survey last year that found no homeless people living on the streets in Greater Newburyport may seem like good news.

But John Feehan, executive director of the YWCA Greater Newburyport, doesn’t believe the results are painting a complete picture.

Feehan said the survey, which encompassed Newburyport, Newbury, Rowley, Amesbury and Salisbury, didn’t fully capture the homelessness problem here at home.

The count as performed by Salem-based North Shore Home Consortium documented as many homeless cases as could be identified via state agencies and school districts. But it didn’t account for multiple families living in single-family dwellings, long-term occupants of hotels or young people moving from place to place.

“The face of homelessness is different here than it is in other communities. We’re not Lynn, Lawrence or Boston with shelters and visible homeless people on the streets,” Feehan said. “The homeless population here is within four walls.”

Tomorrow night, a team of volunteers assembled by the YWCA will work with local aid agencies that assist the area’s homeless population and area police departments that have officers regularly patrolling the streets in hopes of doing a more thorough job this year in compiling an official homeless count for the region.

In so doing, they hope to make a case for greater state funding to help provide housing to residents in need.

“We know that the number is not zero,” Feehan said of the area’s homeless population. “It’s not a very large number, but we know the number is not zero.

“ ... One of the biggest things we want to do is raise the awareness level regarding the issue in the Seacoast area, and show that this is a problem in Amesbury, Newburyport, Salisbury, Newbury and Rowley.”

Feehan said the homeless in Greater Newburyport constitute families who are doubling up in one apartment and splitting the rent or who are booked long term at local hotels after becoming homeless and using state-provided vouchers to help defray costs. They are also high school students living in foster care or other situations where they’re moving from one place to another.

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