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They may not be as obvious or as numerous as in bigger cities, but they're out there, searching for shelter from the cold or maybe an empathetic ear.

Now Niagara County's homeless have a place to go where they can get help with both.

Family and Children's Service of Niagara, in conjunction with the Niagara County Coalition for the Homeless, has created a program to assist the homeless with finding permanent homes and to keep those on the brink from joining the ranks of the displaced.

"It's been in existence for about a year but only in full force for the last couple months," said Family and Children's spokeswoman Eileen McNerney Wagner. "They provide a myriad of services, from helping people fill out forms to keep their public assistance to working with the families to gain access to other services."

"We've contacted (area) agencies to let them know about the program," said Lori Farallo, Family and Children's Service case manager for the homeless, "so that if they know of someone who is going to be evicted, or close to it, we can do preventive work."

She said saving a family from the streets can sometimes be as simple as helping them to complete forms enabling them to receive public assistance.

"Some of the clients aren't doing what they need to do in order to keep assistance coming in. We help keep them on track," Farallo said.

Farallo's goals, as set by the coalition, include helping the homeless find a stable living environment; linking homeless people and their families to community services; providing supportive care to people referred to the program; and educating area public-service agencies and the community on the needs and problems of the homeless.

"She's really been amazing with her outreach," said Nancy Wangler, director of Family and Children's Niagara PASSAGE Program, a shelter for abused women, some of whom have a need for Farallo's services.

"We needed a program and a case manager to help the homeless through the maze of red tape of applying for public assistance," Wangler said.

Farallo works with people referred to her by programs such as Community Missions, the Catholic Worker, Fellowship House, Odol-vlam House, COPIN House, Family and Children's and the Department of Social Services.

"One gentleman has been homeless for the last three years," she said. "Although he's occasionally stayed with family and friends, he's also had to live under a bridge in the Falls."

Family and Children's offers a confidential, 24-hour crisis hot line at 285-6984

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