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An organization that studies homelessness in Erie County has found that 44 percent of homeless people in emergency shelters and temporary apartments are either employed or in a job-training program.

"They're just not getting the jobs they need" that pay a living wage, said Diane R. Bessel, research coordinator for the Erie County Commission on Homelessness.

The commission today releases "Understanding Homelessness: A Report to the Community," its third annual study of who is homeless in the county.

The report's other key findings include:

The number of homeless families is growing, probably at a faster rate than any other segment.

Homeless families include those with single parents, two parents and parents who are adolescents.

Many homeless clients abuse drugs, have mental illnesses or have experienced domestic violence.

These trends have complicated the work of shelter operators trying to help, said William O'Connell, executive director of the commission.

"We need to be creating programs that meet people where they are," he said.

On any given night, an estimated 2,100 people in Western New York live on the street, stay in emergency shelters or use temporary apartments, the report concluded.

This was the first year the commission looked into employment among homeless people, and researchers found that 24 percent of the homeless population were considered able or eligible but were not working. About 32 percent were unable to work due to disability or other problems.

The report will be used to analyze trends, plan for future services for the homeless and raise awareness of the plight of homeless people, said O'Connell.

In the future, the commission plans to examine how other communities handle homelessness and how other indicators, such as hunger, factor into the equation.

In addition to the homelessness numbers, some area pantries are scrambling to keep up with demand for food in recent months.

Two weeks ago, three pantries were out of food when Anne Harrington, executive director of Loaves & Fishes, attempted to refer people for food.

"It's going to be a very long winter," she said. "There are a lot of working poor here. They're looking for other ways to supplement what they have."

While visits to Loaves & Fishes for lunch are at the same pace as last year, Harrington is referring far more people to food pantries this year. Through October, 1,051 people had been referred, compared with 944 through October 2001.

"The numbers kind of astounded me," she said.


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