LOCKPORT -- In hopes of shaking loose up to $1.9 million in state and federal aid, a group of public and not-for-profit agencies will begin surveying Niagara County's homeless population this week.
The effort will begin Monday and continue through next Sunday, said Robyn Krueger, executive director of Community Missions in Niagara Falls. She is also coordinator of the Niagara County Homeless Coalition.
Last year, 135 homeless or "marginally housed" people were surveyed.
The reason for the survey is that federal law making funds available to local groups assisting the homeless requires the homeless to have input so their needs can be prioritized.
The survey may result in an estimate of the county's homeless population, but that's not its primary purpose, Krueger said.
Anthony Mauro, Niagara County probation director, said that he will assign two probation officers to spend a night surveying shelters and other homeless hangouts in the county's three cities.
The officers will be joined by a few Niagara University students who volunteered to assist in the effort, Krueger said.
Community Missions operates the only official homeless shelter in Niagara County.
"You don't usually have only one Community Missions-type place in a county of 200,000 people. It's not enough," said Kathleen Granchelli, executive director of the YWCA of Niagara. Her agency is part of the homeless coalition, along with the Niagara County Social Services Department, the Probation Department, the county Youth Bureau and Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.
Surveying will be done at soup kitchens, food pantries and outreach ministries around the county, such as Heart and Soul and Copin House in Niagara Falls, and the Salvation Army and St. John's Outreach in Lockport.
Krueger said because of the failure to conduct such surveys, the county missed out on as much as $10 million in homeless funding over the past decade. The Homeless Coalition still hasn't heard whether last year's survey was deemed sufficient to produce any funding.
Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Anello said, "I've known people who have been homeless, and to my shock and surprise, they kept it a secret."
He said the man who trained him to be an electrician, the trade he followed before becoming mayor, was one such person.
"He was living in a city park, and no one knew about it," Anello said.
Lockport Mayor Michael W. Tucker said he also knew a man who became homeless.
"A lot of times they fall through the cracks," he said.
"The face of homelessness has changed dramatically in the last few years," Krueger said. "These may be people who are too embarrassed to admit they don't have a home."