Homeless Coalition counts homeless population in Syracuse

Brian, a homeless man, accepts donated blankets from the Rescue Mission

On the coldest night of the year, members of the Housing and Homeless Coalition of Central New York searched for and counted homeless people in Syracuse Wednesday night.

Every year during the last 10 days of January, the federal government requires cities to count the homeless population, and since temperatures hovered below zero degrees Wednesday night, the Coalition members hoped they would not find too many people outside. But, the 386 people inside the homeless shelters are also a part of the count.

The final number goes into a federal government data system, and depending on the number, each city is awarded points, which determine the grant they get to help meet the needs of the homeless in the local community.

"We get nine million dollars in the grant," Liddy Hintz, Director of Emergency and Child Welfare Services at the Salvation Army, says. "So it's a large amount of money, the count is important in that way."

But, what many of the Coalition members stress is the human impact of the count, and while the statistic is important, the human behind the statistic is more important. Each aspect of the final number helps get the homeless off the streets.

John Tumino, who runs In My Father's Kitchen, an organization that goes out and feeds the homeless on a regular basis, develops a relationship with the community members on the streets, which he believes helps them get back on their feet.

"Through that relationship trust is established," Tumino, who has been working with the homeless for 18 months, says. "Once I establish trust with them then they start to open up their hearts and share their life with me, and I find out why they are where they are."

In the past 18 months, Tumino has helped nine people get off the streets. Like Tumino, Tremaine Crawford, who works at the Rescue Mission, regularly works in outreach, and agrees that each person he connects with is much more than a statistic.

"They need to know that they're cared for, and that we're here for them here at the Rescue Mission," Crawford says.

While those final numbers will provide insight into what funds are needed for the homeless, the relationships built by people like Crawford and Tumino will do just as much to help those out there tonight.