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Task force releases report on homeless

June 29, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

HAGERSTOWN - The Mayor's Task Force on Homelessness released a report last week with recommendations to improve the county's homeless services.

The report, which was presented to the Hagerstown City Council and Washington County Commissioners during a joint meeting June 19, includes five recommendations for and two surveys of the county's homeless population.

"The goal when the task force was created was to come up with ideas to eliminate homelessness in Washington County. This report is the beginning of that," said Dale Bannon, executive director of the United Way of Washington County and facilitator of the task force.

The surveys noted that, on any given day, 137 adults and 73 children are homeless in Washington County. They also reported that two-thirds of those surveyed were disabled and more than 60 percent worked at least part-time or seasonally.

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The surveys showed that most of the county's homeless people once owned a home in Washington County.

"Many people think most homeless are transients, but that's not true," Bannon said.

The most common reasons participants listed for being homeless were substance abuse, loss of job, eviction and criminal activity.

The report's first recommendation was to upgrade the county's computerized homeless tracking system by having shelters issue photo IDs with bar codes that would track the county's homeless population, Bannon said. A central tracking system would give the county a clearer picture of its homeless population, Bannon said.

The report also argued that the state's prisoner release system is straining the county's shelters. It asks local officials to lobby the Maryland Department of Corrections to transport released prisoners to their home counties before releasing them.

"About eight percent of our homeless population come from jail or prison, and some of those individuals are not from Washington County," Bannon said.

In addition, Bannon said the county needs a day shelter so homeless people will have a place to stay warm and occupy themselves during the winter.

The day shelter would provide job training, substance abuse counseling and other programs for homeless people, Bannon said.

Other recommendations included the creation of a mental health crisis team that would accompany police officers on some calls and the improvement of the county's long-term housing options for homeless people.

Bannon said the task force will discuss its suggestions with local officials over the next few months before requesting funding.

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