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Volunteers search streets, underpasses to find Northern Kentucky's forgotten homeless

Posted at 1:27 AM, Jan 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-31 01:44:03-05

COVINGTON, Ky. — Julie Doyle and Chris Hamman didn’t plan to spend one of the year’s coldest nights outside, they said Wednesday, but the plummeting temperatures only illustrated why they needed to. The pair were among the many scarf-swaddled, blanket-bearing men and women who every year help perform a headcount of Boone, Campbell and Kenton county’s homeless populations.

The rough census, although imprecise, gives local government and anti-poverty organizations proof of the need that exists in their communities.

Once they know, Doyle said, they can lobby for grant funding or allocate resources accordingly.

Even on a night as cold as Wednesday’s, counting the people who enter a shelter isn’t enough to estimate the true size of an area’s homeless population, she added.

She and Hammann checked libraries, warming centers, soup kitchens, underpasses and sidewalks, hoping to find those who couldn’t or didn’t want to ask for official help.

“They struggle to trust people or walk through the doors of a building,” Doyle said. According to her, the count represents “starting to build a relationship. Bringing them blankets, gloves, hygiene products, water, food to show them we care (and) make it a bit easier for them to engage with us in the future.”

Welcome House advisor Elizabeth Holzer said the week’s extreme cold had spurred her organization to open its three warming centers during the day, which it rarely does. Her primary concern is ensuring everyone who needs a safe, warm place to stay gets one.

“In the past two years, we’ve had people lose their life,” she said. “They’re outside and have no place to go. Let’s not do that this year.”

Anyone without shelter during the day can find it at any of the area’s designated warming centers, which include all YMCA of Greater Cincinnati locations and many public libraries.