Counting in the cold

WARREN – Al said he lives in a vacant home in the downtown Warren area with his 16-year-old daughter.

The house doesn’t have electricity, heat or running water. They have a mattress to sleep on and stay warm with blankets and sleeping bags.

To eat, there’s the Salvation Army and Warren Family Mission. Sometimes a social worker from Catholic Charities Regional Agency gives him items to make sandwiches, he said.

”I’m trying to get her out of there,” said Al, a 51-year-old man from Warren, who did not want to provide his last name. ”I’m just down on my luck right now.”

Al says it’s been about a month now that he’s been at the house. Before that, he was at the Christy House, a 30-day homeless shelter in Warren.

He’s among several homeless individuals living in Trumbull and Mahoning counties. A count of those people, done last year over a 24-hour period, revealed that 99 people were homeless in Trumbull County and 224 in Mahoning County.

On Tuesday, the Trumbull County Housing Collaborative was doing another point-in-time survey. Included in that was a lunch at the Salvation Army that was open to anyone but held specifically to reach people not in a shelter or transitional housing, like Al.

The study helps determine how much funding will come back to the area to fight homelessness and define what services are needed. In addition, it raises awareness about the problem of homelessness, said Sister Jean Orsuto of the Emmanuel Community Care Center.

”People don’t realize we have homeless people here in this community,” Orsuto said.

People at the lunch were sent away with a care package containing toiletry items and a new hat, pair of gloves and a scarf. Some volunteers later canvassed locations in Warren where homeless are known to stay to provide them with the bags.

Next year, there’s talk of also providing hair cuts and some basic medical services, such as dental and eye exams.

Results of the study should be ready next month. A similar study was being done in Mahoning County, too.

Tom Knepper Jr., who said he’s known on the streets as the ”gray wolf,” said he’s been ”off and on” homeless since about 2007. Now he’s staying in a tent in a wooded area not too far north of Warren.

Knepper said he eats where there is food, like the Family Mission, gets around on a classic 1965 Schwinn street cruiser and showers at the Salvation Army or at the home of a friend, but he’s not into staying or ”couch surfing” with them.

”That’s not my style,” he said.

He said he’s worked in rubber factories and as a painter, but now jobs are hard to find.

”You go to a temporary place to work, you’re not guaranteed enough money to survive on,” said Knepper, 58.

Knepper said his military style sleeping bag keeps him warm and he avoids making fires at his campsite; it creates too much attention, he said.