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Families seeking shelter on the rise in Columbus, Franklin Co. ahead of annual homeless count

Babtz Riley homeless count.JPG
Matthew Rand
Babtz Riley takes shelter from Wednesday's winter weather at Broad Street United Methodist Church as community agencies conduct an annual tally of people experiencing homelessness in Columbus and Franklin County.

About 130 volunteers braved the winter weather Wednesday to take part in the annual count of people experiencing homelessness in Columbus and Franklin County.

The point-in-time census is required to take place at least every other year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Getting an accurate count is crucial to informing federal agencies where to allocate resources, said Sara Loken, Community Relations Director for the Community Shelter Board, which led the multi-agency effort.

It's a challenge, Loken said, because not every person experiencing homelessness will come stay at a shelter.

"We've got volunteers out on the land looking for people in places where they might tend to congregate in encampments. We've got people out at warming centers and soup kitchens, kind of looking for places that are natural opportunities for people to seek services," Loken said.

Over the last year, Loken said, the numbers of families seeking shelter rose nearly 20 percent, which she said points to a deepening affordable housing crisis in Franklin County.

A total of 1,912 people were counted during the 2022 census, including 1,426 in shelters, 342 who were unsheltered, and 144 who were in transitional housing.

Final totals from this year's count likely won't be ready until April.

Matthew Rand is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides with Ann Fisher.