Leadership Medina County volunteers want to drive out any idea that there are no homeless people living in Medina County.
So they took to the streets recently to count residents who are homeless — sheltered and unsheltered — in a study known as the Point In Time.
Volunteers collaborated with the Medina Metropolitan Housing Authority’s Debbie Kubena-Yatsko, chief program officer, on the count that involved scouring Medina County the night of Jan. 22. The group found 14 homeless people.
Kubena-Yatsko said it’s important to bring awareness that the problem exists even in what many consider an affluent area.
“Our county has homeless, too,” she said. “There’s a common misconception. In downtown Cleveland, they are very visible. There were also some tent cities (in Summit County).
“That’s not what it looks like in Medina County. Here, it’s spread out in cities, rural areas and in abandoned buildings. We have homeless here, too.”
The information that was compiled is used to help county agencies plan for resources needed to combat the homeless problem. Required nationally by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the PIT count took place on a frigid night — a recorded 1 degree according to the National Weather Service and a day after a weekend storm blanketed the area with snow.
Richie Muniak, of Leadership Medina County, said about 30 volunteers in 15 cars took to the roadways to compile data and to hand out donation bags to the needy.
He said they split the county in four parts — Brunswick, Medina, Wadsworth and Lodi — and hit the roads. They went from 8 p.m. to midnight.
“It was a crazy, eye-opening event,” Muniak said. “It became a game of, ‘Are these people homeless?’ In Medina County, some (homeless) people are working and living in their cars.”
Kubena-Yatsko said the federal government defines a homeless person as someone living on the street or living in a place not fit for human habitation, such as an abandoned building with no heat or in a car.
She said the 14 they found were one more than last year’s total. Kubena-Yatsko said the study has been conducted for at least 10 years.
“This is the first year that we actually had a group like Leadership Medina County take it on as a project,” she said. “They greatly increased the number of volunteers. They did a fantastic job. In the past, we had a few volunteers who went out for a few hours.”
She said the people — 12 men and two women — were spread out across Medina County. Four of the homeless people were 55 and older.
Five of the people were living in their cars. Five were found in abandoned buildings with no heat. Two were in tents outside oLodi and two were found on the street.
Kubena-Yatsko said there were about 10 others staying in homeless shelters, such as Operation Homes, run by a coalition of churches, and the Battered Women’s Shelter.
“We know we can’t find everybody,” Kubena-Yatsko said.
Leadership Medina County handed out 75 bags with snacks, water, toiletries, warm blankets and socks, along with resource information on places to find help.
“They were not all given to homeless,” Muniak said. “We spread them out to the communities to people in need.
“Everyone felt we made an impact. I hope people keep on with this (in the future).”
Muniak, who works at ID Images in Brunswick, said he enjoyed interacting with the other volunteers about their experiences that night.
“I haven’t stopped talking about this project since last September,” he said.
The federal government funds homeless programs like the one run by Medina Metropolitan Housing Authority, using the data from the PIT program.
“We have a couple programs that are focused on serving the homeless or the housing crisis,” Kubena-Yatsko said.
Knowing there are people out in this weather that don’t have a place to stay is “heartbreaking,” she said.
“The county is able to bring in dollars to help this population,” she said. “We are getting them permanently housed. As the population grows (in the county), the challenges grow with it. We have to make sure we have the resources to help people.”
Metropolitan Housing received about $400,000 in federal funding to help the homeless in 2018. It uses that money to pay for people’s security deposit, first month’s rent or helping to pay their rent. She said 67 households in Medina County were helped financially in January.