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Subzero Temps Don't Stop Homeless Count

Teams of volunteers were spread across the state early Wednesday for the annual statewide census of homelessness. The count gives service organizations a snapshot of how many people are on the streets or in shelters on a given night. It's always near the end of January: The colder it is, the more likely it is that people who usually stay on the street will be in a shelter and be counted—which makes the final number more accurate. But Kathleen Shanahan with Montgomery County Housing and Homeless Solutions says there are always a few people who stay out in abandoned houses or hidden camps. "I remember one winter when it was about this cold, it was just a couple of degrees, it was super windy...and there was a woman who I found out later was like in her 60s she wasn’t even a young woman, and was so wrapped up in plastic to try to keep the wind off, it was just like this huge cocoon," Shanahan says. She says people who sleep out may have mental health or drug problems—or they might not feel safe around a lot of people. "When the weather is this cold if you’re gonna still find somebody outside, it is primarily there’s gotta be something else going on that someone’s not coming into shelter in the community." And she says most people become homeless not because of substance abuse or mental health, but because of poverty—and most find a way to be inside. The last homeless count found more than 12 thousand people outside or in shelters across the state.