Teresa Hosey, shelter manager and program assistant at the Christy House in Warren, knows just what to say to people when they come to the emergency shelter: ''I let them know when they come in about the life I used to live.
''I relate with them and they relate with me,'' Hosey said. ''I kind of just share my story with them.''
Hosey is among an army of people working with the area's homeless population on a daily basis. Her story is one of drugs and alcohol, a five-year stint in prison on complicity to burglary charges and other times in and out of jail, and a year spent homeless in Columbus, where she said she lived on the streets and in vacant houses.
''I did what I had to do to survive, some things I'm not proud of and won't mention,'' Hosey said of her time homeless in the state's capital city.
Now clean for 13 years and working at the Greater Warren-Youngstown Urban League, Hosey is among a number of people at different agencies in Trumbull and Mahoning counties trying to tackle the problem of homelessness in the Mahoning Valley.
Hosey, hired in 1991 at the Urban League after her time in prison, said drugs and alcohol got the better of her and she was laid off three years later. Three years after that, she found herself on the street in Columbus after she left the home of her daughter and didn't follow the rules at a shelter.
''So I know what it's like to be homeless,'' Hosey said. ''It's a terrible thing, especially when you're addicted to drugs and alcohol.''
Hosey said that in 1999, she got clean and had a spiritual awakening while in the Trumbull County Jail. That's the same year she got hired back at the Urban League.
Homelessness is often caused by the onset of mental illness or issues surrounding drugs and alcohol. Another cause is financial difficulty, said Cathy Zapka, a social worker with Catholic Charities Regional Agency who works with homeless people in Trumbull County.
Their jobs, she said, are precarious, sometimes in labor pools where the work isn't consistent or their job doesn't pay a living wage, and sometimes they don't have reliable transportation.
In other cases, government assistance isn't enough and there is sometimes difficulty navigating the process to get into subsidized housing, she said. Also, domestic issues can be a cause of homelessness, Zapka said.
The most recent statistics on the Mahoning Valley's homeless population are from early 2011. Called a point-in-time survey, the numbers were gathered during a 24-hour period, but officials say they are a pretty good indicator of the situation now. They show that about 100 people were in some stage of homelessness in Trumbull County; in Mahoning County, the number was about 225.
Another survey is set for Jan. 22.
Diane Baytosh, team leader with the PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) program at Help Hotline in Mahoning County, oversees a group of outreach workers whose job it is to go to shelters, homeless camps, abandoned buildings, ''wherever people might be stuck,'' to give aid, get them someplace safe and then, they hope, into a mental health system.
Her philosophy: Take care of the mind, then finances, and then focus on housing.
''If you don't have the right mind or the pocketbook, if you put them in permanent housing, they're not going to be able to stay,'' Baytosh said.
Her outreach workers always go in pairs and always take humanitarian goods like shampoo, soap, water, snacks and, in the winter, blankets, hats and gloves, she said.
They also take with them persistence to convince the people they contact to get help. Often, it takes a number of contacts with the person before that person will budge, and there's no guarantee that if that person agrees to get help, he or she will follow through, Baytosh said.
But there are successes.
Calling her ''Jane,'' Baytosh said this woman, who suffered from mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction, lived on the streets for three years and was visited weekly by outreach workers trying to convince her to get help, and she finally agreed in 2010 with winter looming.
Today, the woman, in her late 40s, is in her own apartment and ''doing great,'' Baytosh said. Also, she's on a program that pays her bills first and then provides a set amount of money a week.