Colder weather is fast approaching, with mornings already seeing temperatures below zero. The Harlan Community Action Agency (CAA) offers help to homeless people.
Sherri Jennings, Homeless Program Case Manager for Harlan Community Action Agency, spoke about the current homelessness situation in Harlan.
According to Jennings, approximately 67 people participate in the CAA program.
âSo far we have 67 on record who actually live on the streets,â Jennings said.
Jennings explained that CAA provides services, including transportation to shelters. When emergency funding is available, CAA helps people set up temporary housing such as motel rooms. âAt the moment, there is no emergency funding available,â Jennings said.
Jennings said helping homeless people find temporary housing is one of the most important aspects of the program.
However, the lack of funds is the biggest obstacle when it comes to providing this service. Much of the funds are provided by private donations.
âThe CAA accepts donations for the homeless,â Jennings said. âWhen we have funding, we can provide motel roomsâ¦ but at the moment we don’t have the funds. “
Jennings said Harlan County does not have a year-round homeless shelter, so she finds other options when possible.
âI networked and made calls out of the county to try and place some people,â Jennings said. âIf we had had money in our motel program, we could have found them a room for three to five days here, but right now we don’t have that funding, it’s all been spent.
Jennings said when possible, they help locate friends and family who can provide shelter.
âI had to transport several people out of town,â Jennings said. âWe found family or friends they could stay with, and I transported them there. “
Those who did not want to leave Harlan County were given blankets and clothing such as coats and gloves.
Jennings said that as the colder weather approaches, there will likely be an increase in the number of people seeking help.
âDuring the summer, you don’t really hear from a lot of people who need help because they’re not afraid to stay outside,â Jennings said. âThey will stay in tents and under bridges. During the winter you have a lot more people who need help and are ready to ask for help.
The homeless population is not made up of any demographic group, with the homeless coming from different backgrounds and situations.
âThere’s never a profile,â Jennings said. âIt goes from young to old, single mothers, single fathers, teenagers just out of high school, 18 to 19 years old. There is never a profile.
Jennings stressed that the program operates year round and help is always appreciated.
âPeople can donate coats, gloves, blankets, hygiene items, we provide a lot of different things to the homeless in our community,â Jennings said.
Jennings noted that the program is often underfunded.
âThe need for Harlan County is great,â Jennings said. “Like I said, we have 67 (homeless people) that we know of, but I get at least three calls a week to go to someone else who is homeless.”
According to Jennings, the CAA program does not focus on why a person is homeless, with assistance being their top priority.
âOur main goal is to make sure they are fed, safe and have a warm place to sleep,â Jennings said. âIf they want to tell us about how they became homelessâ¦ then we will reach out to other partners in the community and try to find ways to help them. “
Jennings mentioned that the best way for people to help is through monetary donations that would help pay for motel stays and necessities for those in need.
âEveryone is at a bad time to be homeless,â Jennings said.
Jennings noted that it is almost impossible to get an accurate count of the homeless in Harlan County.
âWe do a tally once a year to try to count how many homeless people we have in Harlan,â Jennings said. âWe found this impossible to do because we get new calls every week. Everyone’s circumstances will change, it may be 67 people today, it may be 97 tomorrow.
The roaming issue is ongoing, Jennings said.
âPeople are facing new things now, not only with the pandemic, but unemployment, the moratoria being lifted so people are being kicked out,â Jennings said. âWe get new calls every day from homeless people or at the door. “
Anyone needing the services of the program should contact the CAA at 606-573-5330.
For more information or to donate, contact April Vargas at 606-573-5335.