Reported on by Jerry O’Brien and Veronica Cogan
Robert Swain, a man who has been homeless for the past 12 years, spends his days roaming downtown Canton asking for spare change.
“Its hard out here,” said Swain. “You gotta do what you have to do to survive.”
In the recently released 2009 American Community Survey, data shows that increasingly more Stark Countians are in Swain’s situation.
The poverty rate in Stark County has increased from 12.3 percent in 2008 to 14.9 percent in 2009, and Canton’s overall poverty rate has increased from 27.3 percent in 2008 to 30.5 percent in 2009.
And although Swain doesn’t use the shelters provided in Canton in fear of being “institutionalized,” there has been a steady increase in the number of people using or seeking homeless shelters.
Carol Duncan, a social worker at the YWCA (Young Womens Christian Association), said homelessness is defined as “not having a permanant address.”
The YWCA provides shelter services to homeless females and their children, along with basic needs such as food, clothing and toiletries.
They have three shelter programs.
In 2009, the YWCA served 426 clients, 295 of which were households (families).
The YWCA Emergency Shelter has 42 units. Clients and their families may use the facility for up to 90 days.
During recent years, there has been an increase in people using the YWCA’s services.
The increase in clients won’t effect the services, she said. The social workers just have heavier workloads, and it depends on the clients living there and how serious they are about using the services.
Deborah J. La Valla and her husband Victor A. La Valla, captains at The American Rescue Workers said their resources are being exausted. Victor said their emergency men’s shelter, which provides 33 beds, has been filled since August 2008.
“The face of homelessness has changed over the last 30 years,” said Deborah. “Back then, people who were homeless chose that life style. But today you find young people with no sense of direction, and people who hadagood life-styles but due to whatever reasons, whether they be personal or things they cannot control find themselves homeless.”
The American Rescue Workers is a faith-based non-profit organization that provides services for the homeless. They have an 80 day emergency shelter program for men only, and they also provide a one year program.
“We recieve people from all walks of life, young and old,” said Deborah.
But the American Rescue Workers aren’t the only local service struggling with the increase in clients.
Duane Wykoff, executive director of The Refuge of Hope, said the services they provide have been exhausted as well.
“Our emergency men’s shelter has reached a 91 percent capacity rate; we provide 32 beds,” Wykoff said.
Their meals services have increased as well. For the second year in a row, the number of meals they provided has been more than the previous year. In 2008, they provided 14,500 meals. In 2009, they provided 21,000 meals — that’s a 31 percent increase. It is expected in 2010 they will provide more than 30,000 meals.
Wykoff believes that the poor economy and loss of industry and jobs in Stark County are the two main reasons why the poverty level has increased.
Duncan also believes the homeless issue is most likely due to job losses, economy problems and what she referred to as “the drug problem.”